May 07, 2021 I Brent Swancer

Strange Astronaut Encounters in Space

There are some UFO witnesses that are more reliable than most, and certainly counted among these are pilots and astronauts. Since we have stepped into the realm of space, there have been reports from these brave explorers of things out there that seem to lie beyond our understanding, serving to incite speculation and debate. Make no mistake about it, these pioneers out into the next frontier have often reported strange things out in the void, and here are some of such truly bizarre accounts.

One early report of strange UFO activity in space comes from the legendary astronaut John Glenn, who was a key player in NASA’s early space flight programs. A true pioneer of space travel, Glenn was among the first astronauts, the third American into space, and the first to orbit the Earth aboard the Friendship 7 mission, as well as the oldest person to fly in space when he flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery's STS-95 mission at the age of 77. Receiving the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1962, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978, and inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1990, he seems to be about as reliable a witness as they come, and he was also one of the first to see some strange things up there. On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn took off into low Earth orbit on the Friendship 7 space capsule. At some point during his three passes around the planet, the amazed Glenn explained that he could see “fireflies” buzzing about and orbiting his craft out there, and he would say of the strange phenomenon to Mission Control:

This is Friendship Seven. I’ll try to describe what I’m in here. I am in a big mass of some very small particles that are brilliantly lit up like they’re luminescent. I never saw anything like it. They round a little; they’re coming by the capsule, and they look like little stars. A whole shower of them coming by. They swirl around the capsule and go in front of the window and they’re all brilliantly lighted. They probably average maybe 7 or 8 feet apart, but I can see them all down below me, also. They’re very slow; they’re not going away from me more than maybe 3 or 4 miles per hour. They’re going at the same speed I am approximately. They’re only very slightly under my speed. Over. They do, they do have a different motion, though, from me because they swirl around the capsule and then depart back the way I am looking.

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John Glenn

At first Mission Control was worried that what he was really seeing was pieces of the capsule’s heat shield disintegrating, but this would turn up to not be the case, and none of the described objects ever made contact with the craft. Although it is unknown exactly what Glenn was seeing out there, is has been speculated that it was likely illuminated frost flakes from the outside of the capsule falling away. Interestingly, astronaut Scott Carpenter would report the same phenomenon later that year aboard the same capsule. Was there a mundane explanation for this or was it something stranger?

The following year there was an encounter in space that is even harder to explain. Another space flight pioneer is Leroy Gordon "Gordo" Cooper Jr., who was the youngest of the seven original astronauts in NASA’s first human space program, Project Mercury. In 1963, Cooper was on a solo mission to fly the longest and last Mercury spaceflight, Mercury-Atlas 9, which would last 22 days and make Cooper the first American to spend an entire day in space and the first to sleep in space. During his final orbit aboard the spacecraft, he would report seeing a  glowing, greenish object ahead of him quickly approaching his capsule, which was also picked up on radar at the tracking station at Muchea, near Perth Australia. Interestingly, Cooper would go on to claim various other sightings of UFOs, including ones he had had in 1951 as a test pilot flying over Europe, diring which time he had seen flights of mysterious objects flying in formation, and another incident in 1957, in which he saw a "strange-looking, saucer-like" aircraft that did not make a sound either on landing or take-off at a dry lake bed near Edwards Air Force Base, He would claim that the object at Edwards was seen by other personnel, and had hovered and landed on an array of landing gear like a tripod. In yet another encounter, he claims to have actually seen alien beings, saying:

I was furthermore a witness to an extraordinary phenomenon, here on this planet Earth. It happened a few months ago in Florida. There I saw with my own eyes a defined area of ground being consumed by flames, with four indentations left by a flying object which had descended in the middle of a field. Beings had left the craft (there were other traces to prove this). They seemed to have studied topography, they had collected soil samples and, eventually, they returned to where they had come from, disappearing at enormous speed...I happen to know that authority did just about everything to keep this incident from the press and TV, in fear of a panicky reaction from the public.

Indeed, Cooper claimed that he was met with resistance from the government at every turn when trying to report such encounters, claiming that after filing his report of the Edwards Air Force Base incident the Pentagon had confiscated the photos he had taken of the encounter and had then brushed it under the carpet. He also claims that although astronauts and military pilots frequently saw them, they were discouraged from reporting UFOs, and that there were constant efforts made to make sure that word of strange things in the sky did not get out to the public. Cooper has said of this:

I believe that these extra-terrestrial vehicles and their crews are visiting this planet from other planets... Most astronauts were reluctant to discuss UFOs. I did have occasion in 1951 to have two days of observation of many flights of them, of different sizes, flying in fighter formation, generally from east to west over Europe. For many years I have lived with a secret, in a secrecy imposed on all specialists in astronautics. I can now reveal that every day, in the USA, our radar instruments capture objects of form and composition unknown to us. And there are thousands of witness reports and a quantity of documents to prove this, but nobody wants to make them public. Why? Because authority is afraid that people may think of God knows what kind of horrible invaders. So the password still is: We have to avoid panic by all means.

Cooper would cover much of his UFO experiences and conspiracy theories in his autobiography Leap of Faith, and it makes one wonder just what is going on here. The year 1965 would prove to bring a few high profile reports of UFOs from astronauts. In June of 1965, astronauts Ed White and James McDivitt were aboard the Gemini 4 mission, which was the second crewed spaceflight in the Gemini program and the tenth American spaceflight. On the second day of their mission, they were passing in orbit over Hawaii when they witnessed something very odd, which they would describe as a metallic object with long “arms” sticking out of it. McDivitt would say of the bizarre sighting:

At the time I saw it, I said there was something out in front of me or outside the spacecraft that I couldn't identify and I never have been able to identify it, and I don't think anybody ever will. We were in drifting flight and my partner, Ed White, was asleep. I couldn't see anything out in front of me except just the black sky. And it was rotating around, I noticed something out in front that was a white cylindrical shape with a white pole sticking it out of one corner of it - it looked like a beer can with a smooth pencil sticking out. I grabbed two cameras and took pictures of it. As the sun shone on the window, I could no longer see out and the thing just disappeared.  They checked NORAD records to see what they had up on radar and there wasn't anything within very close range of us.

Rather strangely, the photos that McDivitt had taken were released but did not show what he had described, a fact that baffled him as he insisted that it had been there. This led him to believe that the photos had been tampered with, and in the meantime, there was speculation as to what he might have seen. One was that he had witnessed a secret Soviet satellite, and of course there is the idea he saw an actual UFO, but another possibility is that he simply saw orbital debris from the Gemini 4 launch. McDevitt would deny that he had misidentified debris, but James Oberg, a former space engineer and rocket scientist. Has said of it:

McDivitt, more than a decade after the fact, refused to believe he could have misidentified that object - but both his degraded eyesight and different viewing angle at the time of the sighting eliminate any reliability from that claim - and years of UFO research have taught us the surprising lesson that pilots are, in truth, among the poorest observers of UFOs because of their instinctive pattern of perceiving visual stimuli primarily in terms of threats to their own vehicles. Lastly, this coincidence must be considered: that Gemini 4 was the only one of 10 manned flights in which a rendezvous was attempted (and nearly accomplished) with a beer can-shaped target; and that Gemini 4 was the only flight on which a crewman reported seeing an unidentified beer can-shaped object. Tracking data released by NORAD via NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center found the spent rocket stage has spent about 50 hours in space. During this time, the debris and the Gemini 4 crew were within NORAD's 1,000 miles range. It is, therefore, likely the astronaut witnessed the Titan's booster stage.

In that same year we have the report of veteran NASA astronaut Walter "Wally" Schirra alongside his copilot Thomas Stafford, who in December of that year were engaged in the rendezvous of the Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 spacecraft in space, the first ever manned orbital rendezvous in history. Schirra and Stafford were on the Gemini 6, and the Gemini 7 was flown by astronauts Jim Lovell and Frank Borman. On December 15, both spacecraft successfully completed their missions, and after that they would all report a “bogey at 10 o’clock,” which Mission Control thought might be the booster, but the astronauts claimed that the booster was still in sight and that they could see a fast-moving object at that position. They would later joke that they had seen Santa Claus.

By far the most well-known and also most controversial astronaut sightings of UFOs supposedly comes from astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin during their historic landing on the moon in July of 1969 on the Apollo 11 mission. According to the story, they saw strange lights not long after making their landing, and although there is no official record of the audio exchange of this with Mission Control, in later years unnamed radio hams with their own VHF receiving facilities would claim that they had bypassed NASA’s security censors and picked up what was actually going on. The alleged transcript reads in part:

These "Babies" are huge, Sir! Enormous! OH MY GOD! You wouldn't believe it! I'm telling you there are other spacecraft out there, Lined up on the far side of the crater edge! They're on the Moon watching us!

Armstrong would later refuse to talk about the incident when confronted with it, further adding to the mystique of it all. A former chief of NASA Communications Systems by the name of Maurice Chatelain would in 1979 confirm that Armstrong had indeed reported seeing these craft on the moon, and that “The encounter was common knowledge in NASA.” Chatelain would even say that astronaut reports like this were common on the Gemini and Apollo missions, but that they were suppressed, saying:

All Apollo and Gemini flights were followed, both at a distance and sometimes also quite closely, by space vehicles of extraterrestrial origin - flying saucers, or UFOs, if you want to call them by that name. Every time it occurred, the astronauts informed Mission Control, who then ordered absolute silence.

Astronaut Scott Carpenter would concur with this, at one point saying, “At no time, when the astronauts were in space were they alone: there was a constant surveillance by UFOs." What is going on with cases such as these? Is there anything to them at all, or is this all just misidentification and elaboration? There are certainly reliable witnesses if any of it is true, and it leaves us to wonder just what is going on up there above our heads.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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