NASA To Take Scientific Approach to UFO Data

NASA To Take Scientific Approach to UFO Data

NASA is about to take a look at data on UFOs from a scientific perspective. The 9-month study is not intended to do research on what are formally called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, but to determine what unclassified data is available and what more is needed to figure out what people are seeing. The study is a collaboration between NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate since one motivation for NASA’s involvement is safety of aircraft. Astrophysicist David Spergel will chair the study.

SMD Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen shared the news at a meeting of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board this morning and a hastily-called media teleconference this afternoon.

Spergel is the only member of the panel named today. The former chair of the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton, he is now President of the Simons Foundation in New York. He’s also a former chair of the SSB. The other members will be named later. Daniel Evans, SMD’s assistant deputy associate administrator for research, will manage the study.

Zurbuchen presented the statement of task at the SSB meeting.

Zurbuchen is treating this like any other scientific inquiry. Clearly aware that UAPs are a controversial topic, he insisted that NASA is not dissuaded from performing “high risk, high impact” research and this is no different.  “We are not shying away from reputational risk.”

The study of UAPs is “data poor” and the point of the study is how to make it data rich. What kind of data need to be collected, for example. The same tools NASA uses for its research in astrobiology — the search for life elsewhere in the universe — can be used here. Understanding the unknown is what NASA is all about, and “we have the tools and teams” to do that. While there are national security and aircraft safety reasons to understand UAPs, “I think there’s new science to be discovered” as well.

Spergel agreed. There are “phenomenon we don’t understand, and so how do we begin to make progress?” The study committee will work with “governments, non-profits, companies, civilians” to identify what data is already there and then determine what other data are needed and how to obtain it.

The NASA effort is separate from what is going on in DOD and the Intelligence Community with what is now called the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group. Established at congressional direction and recently the topic of a House Intelligence Committee hearing, one focus has been inexplicable sightings by Navy pilots. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are worried less about the possiblity of aliens visiting Earth than terrestrial adversaries testing new weapons technologies.

One major difference is that the NASA study will be unclassified. Evans said there will be public meetings and the report will be “fully transparent.”

The 9-month study will begin in the fall and cost less than $100,000. Evans hopes having NASA look at UAPs through a scientific lens may reduce the “stigma” associated with UAPs as evidenced by the Navy pilots who were reluctant to report their observations.

Last summer, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson was asked about UAPs in a press conference. Nelson is a former U.S. Senator who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said he was aware of the Navy pilots’ reports, had met with them, and “they think it’s real.” He added that he’d spoken to Zurbuchen about what NASA could do from a science perspective to shed light on it. Zurbuchen was also participating in the press conference and said much of what he said today, that nature is full of surprises, some of which may seem magical at first, but turn out to be new science.

Asked if Nelson directed that this study be conducted, Zurbuchen said Nelson’s interest is no secret, but this is his idea. “I was not asked by anybody to do this or find this particular approach. This is the way I believe this should be done” and similar to how he’s dealt with “ambiguous” scientific questions in the past.

The point is not to “sift through the data and do all this research,” Zurbuchen stressed, but to determine what data are there and what’s needed. Spergel said they will try to lay out a “roadmap of how we can make progress in the future.” He said the only notion he has going into the study is “that we should be open to the idea that we’re looking at several different phenomena” not one explanation for everything.

Could they be aliens from another world?  NASA’s official answer is “there is no evidence UAPs are extra-terrestrial in origin.”

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