Only you can detect UFOs—well, you and state-of-the-art U.S. government technology.
NASA on Thursday shared the findings of a yearlong, external independent study on unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, the government’s preferred term for the mysterious objects. A panel of 16 experts suggested the agency should be more involved in UAP surveillance, data collection, and cooperation with the Department of Defense and other agencies.
In addition to recommending NASA deploy its own technology to study UAPs in conjunction with outside sources—such as using cell phone images and video captured by civilians to crowdsource data—the panel talked the agency into appointing a new director of UAP research. That individual has yet to be named, but they’ll help centralize NASA communication and coordination with other agencies.
“NASA’s new director of UAP research will develop and oversee the implementation of NASA’s scientific vision for UAP research, including using NASA’s expertise to work with other agencies to analyze UAP and applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to search the skies for anomalies,” said Administrator Bill Nelson. “NASA will do this work transparently for the benefit of humanity.”
Nelson said during a press conference Thursday the study’s goal was to shift the UAP conversation “from sensationalism to science,” adding that the panel found no evidence of extraterrestrial activity. Still, he said he believes alien life is very much possible.
“If you ask me, do I believe there’s life in a universe that is so vast that it’s hard for me to comprehend how big it is? My personal answer is yes,” Nelson said.
NASA established its external UAP independent study team in June 2022 to explore how the agency’s resources could be used to shed light on UAPs. The group consists of 16 experts with diverse backgrounds in science, technology, data, artificial intelligence, space exploration, aerospace safety, and more. It is chaired by David Spiegel, president of the science research firm Simons Foundation.
NASA asked the panel to outline a roadmap for how it could use the tools at its disposal to collect reliable UAP data and evaluate and categorize incidents. While the study was not a review of previous UAP incidents, researchers relied on unclassified data to dig into a few notable sightings—such as the “GoFast” video recorded in 2015 by Navy pilots aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
The video gives the impression of an object skimming over the ocean at impossible speeds. But NASA said it has all but debunked it. Using metadata analysis, the panel determined the UAP was only flying around 40 mph and was most likely drifting with the wind. It presented those findings to a committee in May, noting its conclusions are not firm.
A hearing before the U.S. House Oversight committee in July reignited public interest in the UFO phenomenon, as retired Major David Grusch and two other former Navy pilots—one of whom witnessed the “GoFast” incident—alleged a government cover-up of crashed extraterrestrial aircraft and nonhuman “biologics.”
Grusch’s testimony also raised concerns around the nation’s UAP reporting and data collection capabilities, which he and his colleagues characterized as weak. It helped spur the Pentagon’s launch of a website for the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), billed as a “one-stop shop” for reporting incidents. But the NASA panel feels more work needs to be done.
Could NASA Take the Reins on UAP Research?
With a bevy of high-tech surveillance tools and other resources at its disposal, NASA should take on a more active role in UAP research, the panel argued. Currently, those efforts are led by the AARO, a branch of the DOD formed in 2022 to investigate unexplained objects. But the experts think NASA could take on that mantle.
“The study of UAPs presents a unique scientific opportunity that demands a rigorous, evidence-based approach,” the report read. “Addressing this challenge will require new and robust data acquisition methods, advanced analysis techniques, a systematic reporting framework and reducing reporting stigma. NASA—with its extensive expertise in these domains and global reputation for scientific openness—is in an excellent position to contribute to UAP studies within the broader whole-of-government framework.”
The panel said the agency’s Earth-observing satellites—equipped with state-of-the-art sensor technology—should be used specifically to probe earth, oceanic, and atmospheric conditions to determine whether those factors are related to reported UAP sightings and behaviors.
It also recommended the agency launch a data acquisition campaign, collecting and sharing multispectral and hyperspectral data with other agencies. The idea is to cut down on data gathered incidentally by flight instruments not designed for detecting objects, such as reports that come from general aviation pilots. Instead, the experts want dedicated UAP data collection.
The panel suggested the private sector—and even civilian observers—could also have a role to play. In particular, the U.S. commercial remote-sensing industry could work with NASA to deploy ground-based sensors or satellite constellations to complement the agency’s efforts.
Of more interest, however, is the proposed idea of “open-source, smartphone-based apps” that could send data and metadata to NASA. Essentially, civilian observers would create a panopticon in the sky, using their cell phone cameras to collectively keep tabs on any mysterious objects in the airspace. The panel recommended NASA develop or acquire a crowdsourcing system with that vision in mind.
The experts also had some thoughts on how information is managed and evaluated. They pointed to artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies as a method of poring over UAP reports once NASA and the AARO gather enough data to serve as a baseline.
The panel believes the ability to place physical constraints on UAPs—such as criteria for their speeds and velocities based on the performance of known aircraft—is “within reach.” Beyond that, the panel called on NASA to assist the AARO in developing a federal civilian UAP reporting system, emphasizing the former would play an “essential role” in that framework.
To address the airspace safety threat UAPs present, the experts further suggested the NASA-administered FAA Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) —a confidential, voluntary reporting system for pilots, air traffic controllers, and other aviation personnel—be harnessed.
Current FAA guidance directs pilots to report sightings to local law enforcement or one of several nongovernmental organizations. But the panel views the ASRS as a potentially game-changing tool for UAP research efforts. It also recommended NASA work with the FAA to develop air traffic management systems that can acquire UAP data.
But NASA’s involvement would add more to the UAP research effort than resources. The agency’s presence adds a level of legitimacy to the entire operation, which could help silence the doubters and reduce the stigma associated with UAP reporting in the military and other areas of government.
“NASA’s long-standing public trust, which is essential for communicating findings about these phenomena to citizens, is crucial for destigmatizing UAP reporting,” the report read. “The scientific processes used by NASA encourage critical thinking; NASA can model for the public how to best approach the study of UAP, by utilizing transparent reporting, rigorous analysis, and public engagement.”
Grusch and the other retired Navy Pilots in July estimated that some 95 percent of UAP sightings go unreported, owing largely to the stigma around them. With NASA’s involvement, the hope is that more pilots, government officials, and other observers take the phenomenon seriously, causing that number to rise.