NASA has announced the formation of a study team dedicated to UFOs – or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs), as they have been renamed to eliminate some of the stigma of the tinfoil hat. But don’t expect some sort of “X-Files” team looking to prove the existence of extraterrestrials.
Starting this fall, the study will see researchers identify what UAP data already exists, determine how best to collect UAP data in the future, and develop methods to study the nature of UAPs, for both scientific and aerospace defense reasons. The team will be led by astrophysicist David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation in New York, alongside Daniel Evans, the deputy assistant deputy administrator for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“Over the decades, NASA has answered the call to tackle some of the most perplexing mysteries we know, and this is no different,” Evans said on a conference call. “I want to point out that NASA is uniquely positioned to deal with UAPs, because who but us can use the power of data and science to see what is happening in our skies? And frankly, that’s why we do what we do.”
This is not the first program dedicated to UAP research. Between 1952 and 1969, the United States Air Force (USAF) studied UAPs under Project Blue Book. More recently, in 2017, The New York Times revealed a clandestine Pentagon UAP research program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which ended in 2012 due to lack of funding. This report led to an increase in public interest in UAPs. Subsequently, the Department of Defense (DoD) formed the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF), dedicated to investigating UAP reports, and its successor, the Aerial Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG).
So far, these programs have not explained most UFO sightings. And notably, they have not produced concrete evidence that UAPs are extraterrestrial, as shown in the DoD’s declassified UAP report from June 2021 and a Congressional hearing on UAPs in May 2022.
NASA has also been open about the fact that UAPs are likely not alien spacecraft. “There is no evidence that the UAPs are of extraterrestrial origin,” the agency said in a press release. But that’s not to say that aliens are entirely out of the question.
“Part of our task at NASA given to us by Congress is not just to do fundamental research in the skies and so on, but as part of that to also find life elsewhere,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. “And that’s why we’ve built astrobiology programs across many disciplines in this abstract field that looks at both extinct life on Mars, for example, but also patterns of life elsewhere, maybe on Europa or maybe on Enceladus.”
Zurbuchen also acknowledged NASA’s current research on “technosignatures,” or signs of alien technology potentially created by intelligent life.
But in this study, NASA will not seek to develop explanations for UAPs, extraterrestrial or otherwise. This is more of an intelligence-gathering mission – the results of which will be shared publicly, unlike many DoD findings – that could open the door for more UAP research and analysis. “We hope to at least present part of the roadmap for how we can progress in the future,” Spergel said on the conference call.
Given NASA’s focus on methodical and scientific UAP research, we think Special Agent Dana Scully would be proud.