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Is The Truth Out There? NASA Chief Wants Agency Scientists To Investigate UFOs

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson talks to the agency’s workforce during his first State of NASA event Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Photo: NASA
(NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson talks to the agency’s workforce during his first State of NASA event Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Photo: NASA

UFOs have gone mainstream. After reporting from the New York Times prompted lawmakers to call for more transparency into government UFO research, the Pentagon is set to release a highly anticipated report later this week.

The Department of Defense isn’t the only organization investigating so-called unidentified aerial phenomena. NASA is joining the quest to help uncover the truth about unexplained things in the sky.

In 2004 a Navy pilot shot video of a white blob tracking through the sky. Pilot Chad Underwood called it a tic tac after its oblong shape. Thirteen years later the video appeared in the New York Times spurring a new wave of UFO interest.

An upcoming intelligence report is said to examine around 120 more incidents similar to the 2004 Navy video. According to the Times, the report found no evidence of alien technology. But it doesn’t rule it out either.

So what was the tic tac?

"People want to know." NASA administrator Bill Nelson asked the agency’s scientists to investigate. Before leading the agency, Nelson was a Senator and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee

“I've talked to those Navy pilots. They know that they saw something. I've asked our scientists here at NASA, if they'll see if they can help us have any understanding of something that we do not know what it is.”

The agency has been searching for signs of life outside our planet for decades. The latest Mars rover Perseverance is searching for ancient signs of life on Mars. But NASA’s UAP investigation here on Earth is still in its infancy.

"The serious researchers have always been saying we want science involved," said Rob Swiatek, a UFO researcher and board member of the Mutual UFO Network, a non-profit organization that investigates reports of UFO sightings. "We want organizations, people with money, people with instruments to look into this phenomenon, because we think something's going on."

UFO research has been stigmatized, perceived as more of fringe science than legitimate study. That tide may turn with NASA’s involvement. "There are going to be some scientists who previously to this didn't get involved with UFOs that are now going to read this forthcoming report and say this is really intriguing. This is something I want to get involved with," said Swiatek.

As public interest in UFOs grows, public perception of the subject is also changing. "That that feeling is changing as more people, especially within the military and intelligence communities talk about that," said journalist and author Sarah Scoles.

"A majority of people in the U.S. believe that UFOs are something. [They] believe that people are seeing something," she said. "I have actually found that as soon as you give the average person a sort of safe space to talk about UFOs -- where they feel like you're not going to be making fun of them -- way more people than you would think have something to say about it."

While NASA’s joining the effort to uncover these phenomena may end some stigma associated with UFO and UAP research, there’s still a lot more work to be done.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Jacob Haqq-Misra a senior research investigator at Blue Marble Space Institute of Science. He was once a UFO skeptic, but now uses his research background to search for signs of civilizations outside our solar system. Legitimizing the field to recruit more scientists is a good start, but there's more to be done.

"To do work on any difficult science problem, you need funding. I'm skeptical that NASA or the U.S. government will put much funding into this. We need some private investors to spearhead this [effort]."

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said the agency isn't working directly with the Department of Defense yet, but he hopes the space agency can help create a whole government understand of UAPs.

“I don't know what we will find," he said.  "But I know that those Navy pilots know that they saw something, and can't be explained.”

Brendan Byrne is Central Florida Public Media's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing the organization's internship program. Byrne also hosts Central Florida Public Media's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration, and the weekly news roundup podcast "The Wrap."