NASA stated yesterday that it will assemble an independent team of researchers this fall to investigate sightings of unexplained aerial phenomena, or UAPs, the new word for UFOs. The space agency said it will investigate these occurrences scientifically, but adds that “there is no proof UAPs are of extraterrestrial origin.”
The research team, directed by astrophysicist David Spergel and funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, will try to figure out what data is available on UAPs and how to best gather it in the future. The restrictions in observations, according to NASA, make it difficult to draw logical inferences about where UAPs originate. According to a NASA blog post, the researchers will also aim to figure out how “NASA might use that data to advance the scientific knowledge of UAPs.” According to Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, the investigation will be open and unclassified.
Even though aliens are unlikely to be the source of any UAPs, NASA maintains that examining UAP sightings is in line with the space agency’s aims. It’s critical to distinguish between UAPs caused by natural events and those caused by technology for one of NASA’s lesser-known goals: air safety. Though NASA is best recognized for its space exploration operations, the first “A” in NASA stands for aeronautics. During a live-streamed discussion at the National Academies of Sciences’ Space Studies Board meeting, Zurbuchen said, “The way we think about this at NASA is compatible with our principles of openness, transparency, and scientific integrity.” “Reputational danger is not something we’re afraid of.”
The findings of this investigation came after years of speculation and media coverage of UAP sightings. According to a 2017 New York Times investigation, the Pentagon maintained a classified program named the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) that purportedly investigated sightings of unidentified aerial vehicles (UAVs) made by military pilots. Following a flurry of interest from lawmakers and the media, the Department of Defense established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, or UAPTF, under the Navy in 2020 to learn more about the origins of UAPs.
While NASA has yet to officially enter the UAP debate, NASA administrator Bill Nelson has made numerous comments regarding the sightings, even implying that there may be an extraterrestrial explanation for what is being seen
“I’ve talked to those pilots and they know they saw something, and their radars locked onto it,” Nelson said during a Livestream chat hosted by the University of Virginia. “And they don’t know what it is. And we don’t know what it is. We hope it’s not an adversary here on Earth that has that kind of technology. But it’s something.”
The Pentagon issued its analysis on the likely origins of UAPs in June of last year, citing five plausible reasons for what pilots have been seeing in the air. While many of the explanations were innocuous, such as airborne clutter and natural atmospheric phenomena, the Pentagon also included a fifth category of “other” for events and sightings it couldn’t explain.
The first time Congress convened a public hearing on UFOs in more than 50 years was on May 17th, when a subcommittee of the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing to check in on the UAP Task Force. Deputy Director of US Naval Intelligence Scott Bray testified during the hearing that the UAP Task Force had received 400 reports of UAP sightings. He also showed two UAP movies, one of which was only a few seconds long and showed a little spherical object traveling across the camera swiftly. It was used by Bray to demonstrate how little detail pilots can obtain during UAP sightings at times.
Though NASA emphasized that there is no evidence that UAPs are extraterrestrial, Zurbuchen didn’t shut the door on that possibility. “If somebody asked me to do I think there is irrefutable evidence for intelligent life here in one of these phenomena, I would give an answer that’s acceptable as a scientist,” Zurbuchen said, “which is, ‘I don’t know.’”