There is a common misperception that scientists are not interested in UFOs. I often hear that if there really was something to this, then scientists would be looking into it. The reality is that not only are scientists interested, they have been the main proponents of this subject since the beginning of modern UFO research.
When the public started to take notice of high profile UFO sightings beginning in the 40’s, the Air Force was on point to investigate the phenomena. They started several projects, all culminating into the Air Force’s largest UFO investigation called Project Blue Book. To help them in their investigation they hired astronomer, Dr. J. Allen Hynek.
Hynek was not enthusiastic about the subject at the time. He was quoted as saying “the whole subject seems utterly ridiculous”. He then went on to explain away the incredible sightings that continued to be reported by credible people. One of his most infamous debunkings was in March of 1966, when hundreds of witnesses in Michigan reported sightings over a two day period. Hynek suggested that some of these could have been due to swamp gas.
Eventually, after reviewing enough of these cases, Hynek began to believe that there actually was something more to the UFO mystery. He began disagreeing with the Air Force’s conclusions on some cases, and once Project Blue Book was closed, was an open advocate of the need for further research into the issue. In an interview in the 80’s Hynek had said that he became frustrated with the Air Force pressuring him to come up with quick prosaic answers to sightings instead of allowing him to conduct proper investigations.
To further scientific studies into UFOs Hynek started the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). He also went on to consult Steven Spielberg on his movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The title of the movie was based on a classification system that Hynek had developed for UFO sightings.
Hynek’s story is important because here we see that the first scientist tasked with the job of researching UFOs , once provided the evidence, became so interested that he devoted much of his life’s work to the effort. Although, Hynek started one of the first and most important UFO research organizations, his wasn’t the first, nor was it the first to be started by scientists.
It’s arguable as to which of the UFO research organizations was the most important, but another one of the top three was the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). It was founded in 1956 by physicist Thomas Townsend Brown. Brown researched electromagnetism, radiation, field physics, gravity, and other cutting edge technologies. Among the organizations he worked for was the National Defense Research Committee and the Office of Scientific Research and Development.
Brown believed that some of the research he was involved with may shed light on the type technology being applied by UFOs. His organization, NICAP, went on to include many notable members and advisors, including retired and active military personnel. After Brown, one of the most prominent Directors was retired USMC Major Donald Keyhoe. Keyhoe then recruited the help of one of his Naval Academy colleagues, Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter. Among other accolades, HIllenkoeter was the first director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Hillenkoeter was openly critical of the Air Force’s handling of the UFO situation, as can be seen in his famous quote in the New York Times, “Behind the scenes, high-ranking Air Force officers are soberly concerned about UFOs. But through official secrecy and ridicule, many citizens are led to believe the unknown flying objects are nonsense.”
The third large UFO organization from the early years was the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), started in 1952 by electrical technician, Jim Lorenzen along with his wife Coral. Over time they collected a long list of scientific consultants, including atmospheric physicist Dr. James McDonald, professor in hydraulics engineering Dr. James Harder, and psychologists Dr. Leo Sprinkle.
By the late 50’s there were three organizations with respected scientific members investigating UFOs. To add to this scientific endeavor, in 1969 the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting included a panel discussion of scientists on UFOs. This was all in the beginning of UFO research, and scientific interest continues to this day.
Over time these three organizations either lost steam, or shut down completely. So in 1969 many of APRO’s members went on to found the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), which is currently largest UFO organization in the U.S. MUFON was founded by Walt Andrus, who had a long career as an educator and manager in technology, along with engineer John Schuessler, and Dr. Allen Utke.
John Schuessler is a retired aerospace engineer, who spent 36 years working for the Human Space Flight program. He was a Director and Project Manager for Space Shuttle Flight Operations, and received the NASA Public Service Medal for leadership on his role in the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.
Among the many scientists that make up the membership of MUFON are prominent researchers such as physicist Stanton Friedman, optical physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee, aeronautical engineer Dr. Bob Wood, and professor of physics Dr. Jack Kasher. I’m sure I am neglecting to mention many others, as there are an abundance of dedicated scientists aiding in MUFON’s efforts.
Physicist Stanton Friedman is probably the most well known scientist in UFO research. He has been featured on countless documentaries and news stories on this subject.
Stanford Professor of astrophysics, Peter Sturrock convened what is known as the Sturrock Panel in 1996. His colleague Dr. Jacques Valle had written books on UFOs, and after reviewing them he agreed that the subject was worthy of scientific study. He felt that there was a problem with scientists understanding the UFO phenomena. At the time Laurance Rockefeller was also taking an interest in UFO research. Rockefeller agreed to fund a gathering of a group of UFO researchers to present their evidence to a panel of unbiased scientists. They included in their conclusions that “It is desirable that there be institutional support for research in this area.”
In 1995 real estate developer Robert Bigelow created the National Institute for Discover Sciences (NIDS). Bigelow grew up in Las Vegas while the atom bomb was being developed, and remembers his family reporting many UFO sightings. Since then he has had an interest in getting to the root of the issue. He started NIDS and hired scientists to investigate anomalous phenomena including UFOs.
NIDS was disbanded in 2004 when Bigelow refocused his energy on space technology and started a company called Bigelow Aerospace. He However, he did not abandon the search for UFO truth. Bigelow Aerospace works with MUFON and just recently it was announced that the FAA will make Bigelow Aerospace their official UFO reporting center for commercial pilots.
Some of the scientists involved with NIDS projects were Dr. Colm Kelleher, Dr. Jacques Vallee, Dr. Christopher Greene, Dr. Roger Leir, Dr. Hal Puthoff, Dr. John Alexander, and astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell. Molecular Biologist, Dr. Colm Kelleher still organizes investigations for Bigelow Aerospace’s current UFO investigations.
In 2008, the Society for Scientific Exploration included UFOs in their 2008 annual meeting in Boulder, CO. Among the featured speakers to cover the subject were, Dr. Bob Wood, Dr. John Alexander, Dr. Simeon Hein, Dr. Shelley Tanenbaum, and Dr. Claude Swanson. The ex-minister of Defense for Canada, the honorable Paul Hellyer also addressed the SSE at this meeting calling for an end to UFO secrecy.
Another well know scientist that is often seen in the media and has been including this subject in his lectures is theoretical physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku. He can be seen on many recent documentaries regarding incredible cutting edge breakthroughs in technology. He is a major contributor to string theory. In his latest book, Physics of the Impossible, he covers the idea of advanced civilizations. He categorizes them based on the levels of technology they may have obtained. Currently humans only rate as a type 0.
Beyond astrobiology, Dr. Kaku has stressed in many interviews the need to take UFOs seriously. Doing my best to sum up his point, he notes that even in programs, such as the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, there are a small percentage of sightings that could not be explained. When given the thousands of reports received, this represents a large amount of unknowns. Theoretical physicists believe travel at vast distances over short times is possible, that along with the ongoing discovery of planets that could harbor life, it is not such a stretch to think that a more advanced civilization is checking us out.
This article could go on almost indefinitely because there are so many scientists investigating the UFO question. I was surprised when I started getting involved with this field at how many scientists and engineers were interested. I found myself among venerable gentlemen that you would expect to find at a NASA conference. It is true that there are no large scientific institutions or universities taking on this subject. This is most likely the reason why people believe that scientists are not interested. Getting a scientific institution interested in this subject would probably lead to astonishing breakthroughs in this field, and with continued interest by respected high-profile scientists, we may see that happen in the near future.