For the organization which has spent more time in outer space that any other, NASA has been slow to embrace the idea of unidentified flying objects. Even when its own astronauts swear they have seen UAPs, the space agency has stepped back from acknowledging them, let alone investigating them. As the Department of Defense finally admitted that videos of UAPs taken by military pilots and naval ship personnel are real and the U.S. Congress demanded and received briefings and hearings, NASA this summer decided to jump on the UAP bandwagon and announced it would form a panel to investigate them. After months of searching, that panel has finally been announced. Let’s take a look at who is on it and why, and then compare it to some rival organizations.
“Exploring the unknown in space and the atmosphere is at the heart of who we are at NASA. Understanding the data we have surrounding unidentified aerial phenomena is critical to helping us draw scientific conclusions about what is happening in our skies. Data is the language of scientists and makes the unexplainable, explainable.”
In the NASA press release, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, makes some bold statements about a 16-person commission with a budget under $100,000 and only nine months to complete the project. But we’ll have to take when we can get from the organization that usually gives nothing on the subject. At the head of the table is David Spergel, the chair of the study. Spergel is the president of the Simons Foundation where he was the founding director of its Flatiron Institute for Computational Astrophysics and helped establish the standard model of cosmology.
Two names on the panel that should be familiar to the general public are Scott Kelly and Frederico Bianco. Kelly is a veteran NASA astronaut – having served on four space missions, including a one -year stint on the International Space Station – and is have of the human space travel guinea pigs team with his identical twin brother and fellow astronaut Mark Kelly, now a U.S. senator. Scott Kelly was asked by CNN in 2021 if he believes in UFOs or extraterrestrials and he said, “No. I think the distances are too great. The physics are... The nearest Earth-like planet, if we went as fast as we could, would take 80,000 years to get there." If UFO believers were hoping for a fighter on the team, Scott Kelly isn’t it … but Federica Bianco is. The Italian-born astrophysicist took up boxing for fitness and while living in New York and found she was good enough to turn pro – competing in competitions like Beautiful Brawlers and the National Women’s Golden Gloves. Bianco calls herself “The Mad Scientist” and has real science credentials – she is a joint professor at the University of Delaware, is the principal investigator of Federica Astrostatistics Lab (FASTLab), and coordinates more than 1,500 scientists for the 2023 Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Science Collaboration to discover new galaxies and stars in the southern sky.
With some UAPs also showing underwater capabilities, the team decided to include biological oceanographer Paula Bontempi, a professor of oceanography University of Rhode Island and a NASA veteran who was the acting deputy director of NASA’s Earth Science Division for the Science Mission Directorate and worked on many NASA Earth observing satellite missions. To help include non-military UFOs in the evaluation is Karlin Toner, the acting executive director of the FAA’s Office of Aviation Policy and Plans, who previously was the director of the Airspace Systems Program at NASA Headquarters. Also representing the FAA is Warren Randolph, the deputy executive director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Accident Investigation and Prevention for Aviation Safety department. This is a good sign that the many UFOs seen by commercial pilots will be included in the NASA research. To make sure the photos are clear and the facts checked thoroughly is science journalist Nadia Drake, a contributing writer at National Geographic and Scientific American covering astronomy, astrophysics, planetary sciences, and jungles and the holder of a doctorate in genetics.
The search of extraterrestrial intelligence will be represented on the panel by Anamaria Berea, an associate professor of Computational and Data Science at George Mason University and a research affiliate with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, focusing on the science of both biosignatures and technosignatures as signs of intelligent life. Representing the issues of the Department of Defense is Reggie Brothers, the former undersecretary for Science and Technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research at the Department of Defense. On the medical side – if they happen to uncover some living ETs – is Jen Buss who worked with NASA on strategic planning processes for astronaut medical care. When it comes to negotiating with those living extraterrestrials, the panel has Mike Gold, a former NASA associate administrator for Space Policy and Partnerships, acting associate administrator for the Office of International and Interagency Relations and senior advisor to the Administrator for International and Legal Affairs. Gold also worked with the State Department on the creation and execution of the Artemis Accords, which established the norms of behavior in space. To help figure where the UFOs and aliens are coming from is David Grinspoon, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and a researcher on comparative planetology, climate evolution and the implications of habitability on earth-like planets.
Proving that the James Webb Space Telescope has taken over SETI, the panel includes Matt Mountain, who oversees a consortium of national and international universities who help NASA and the National Science Foundation build and operate observatories including NASA’s Hubble Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope. Representing earthlings is Walter Scott, the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Maxar in Colorado which specializes in earth intelligence and space infrastructure. Also looking at the Earth side is Joshua Semeter, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Boston University where he also researches interactions between Earth’s ionosphere and the space environment. For those who support the theory that extraterrestrials beat the speed of light limitation by traveling through wormholes and black holes is Shelley Wright, an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Studies specializing in supermassive black holes and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
That is NASA’s UFO investigation panel. It seems to have every aspect of unidentified aerial phenomena and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence covered except for one – no one on the panel has had an encounter with a UFO or ET. For that, we turn to a rival organization – the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). The world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession, the AAIA announced the formation of the Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Community of Interest with two co-chairpersons -- Ravi Kopparapu, a planetary scientist at NASA who is studying the potential habitability of Earth-like planets, and Ryan Graves, the former Navy fighter pilot and defense contractor who revealed his UFO encounters while piloting his F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet in 2014 and 2015. These two organizations are just starting out, while the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office formed in July “to detect, identify and attribute objects of interest in, on or near military installations, operating areas, training areas, special use airspace and other areas of interest, and, as necessary, to mitigate any associated threats to safety of operations and national security. This includes anomalous, unidentified space, airborne, submerged and transmedium objects.”
NASA’s unidentified aerial phenomena panel has the broadest background and a boxer, but the smallest budget. On the private sector side, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics has a pilot with real UFO experience. The Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office has the backing of the federal government and the biggest budget. Which one will win the race to reveal the first extraterrestrials and their space ships?