Oct 19, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

The Late Astronaut James McDivitt, His UFO and Other Astronaut UFO Sightings

Fans of space travel, astronauts and NASA mourn the passing on October 13, 2022, of James McDivitt, an American test pilot, aeronautical engineer and NASA astronaut who flew in the Gemini and Apollo programs as commander the Gemini 4 mission, which featured the first U.S. spacewalk, and the Apollo 9 flight, which was the first crewed flight test of the Apollo lunar module. Fans of UFOs and ufology will also mourn his passing because McDivitt made what is considered to be the first, if not the only, officially reported sighting of a UFO during any of the Mercury, Gemini or Apollo missions. Let’s take a look at James McDivitt’s famous UFO encounter and some of the other astronauts who reported seeing things in space they could not explain.

Astronaut James McDivitt

James Alton McDivitt joined the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1951 during the Korean War. He became a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in 1959 and joined the Manned Spacecraft Operations Branch in 1962, the same year he was selected by NASA to be part of Astronaut Group 2 – McDivitt, Neil Armstrong, Frank Borman, Pete Conrad, Jim Lovell, Elliot See, Tom Stafford, Ed White, and John Young. This became a prestigious group of astronauts -- six of them flew to the Moon (Lovell and Young twice), and Armstrong, Conrad, and Young walked on the Moon. McDivitt orbited the Moon in 1969 as part of the Apollo 9 crew, but his UFO encounter came earlier in 1965 on the flight of Gemini 4.

“(It looks) like a beer can or a pop can, and with a little thing like maybe like a pencil or something sticking out of it."

On the second day of the four day mission, spacewalker Ed White was sleeping when McDivitt filmed a UFO out the window of the capsule while over Hawaii. The photos were not properly focused but McDivitt believed at the time he was seeing something outside of and close to the space capsule. Word reached the press and the "UFO photos" were reported to be disc-shaped objects with tails resembling "tadpoles." (View the photo here.) 

“No I've lost it. It had big arms sticking out of it, it looked like. I only had it for just a minute. I got a couple of pictures with a movie camera and one with the Hasselblad; but I was in free drift, before I could get the control back I drifted and lost it.”

McDivitt also reported seeing unknown objects while over the Caribbean and spoke often of the sightings after leaving the astronaut program. However, he stuck to his official story that he saw a manmade satellite not acknowledged by NASA for security reason, and the photo that was released was not of the object but was a light reflection off the copilot's window. Nonetheless, James McDivitt was one of the earliest astronauts to speak publicly about his sighting.

Prior to McDivitt’s 1964 sighting, a number of astronauts reported seeing strange things they could not identify. In 1962, Mercury astronaut John Glenn claimed three snowflake-like objects followed him and eventually overtook the capsule at varying speeds. Other astronauts were later able to recreate the “snowflakes” by banging on the walls of the capsule, leading many to believe they were ice particles. Later in 1962, Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter reported photographing firefly-like objects and seeing a “saucer”, but the fireflies were thought to be window glares or dirt and the saucer was a balloon ejected from his capsule. In 1963, Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut, reported seeing a greenish UFO with a red tail during his fifteenth orbit over Perth, Australia, that was picked up by ground tracking stations. While he was not allowed to be questioned about it, Cooper claimed throughout his life that the U.S. government was covering up information about UFOs. Although difficult to verify for obvious reasons, Soviet cosmonauts onboard Voskhod 2 in 1964 reported a cylindrical object which was probably a satellite and a UFO during their re-entry.


Capcom: This is Houston. Say again 7.


Capcom: Gemini 7, is that the booster or is that an actual sighting?


Capcom: ...Estimated distance or size?


Astronaut Group 2 - front row, left to right, Navy Lt. Charles Conrad, Jr., Air Force Major Frank Borman; NASA Test Pilot Neil Armstrong, and Navy Lt. Cmdr. John W. Young; second row, civilian test pilot Elliott M. See, Jr., Air Force Capt. James A. McDivitt, Navy Lt. Cmdr. James A. Lovell, Jr., Air Force Capt. Edward H. White II, and Air Force Capt. Thomas P. Stafford -- a lot of UFO spotters

After McDivitt’s sighting in 1965 came a number of other notable UFO reports.  Fellow Group 2 astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell reported seeing a UFO that NASA tried to explain as their Titan booster rocket, but both claimed they saw the booster AND the UFO. The most well-known astronaut UFO sightings came from astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin during their Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969 when Aldrin allegedly reported seeing strange lights on the Moon’s surface but NASA suppressed the audio exchange with Mission Control – it was later said to have been found by ham radio operators.

“I don't know what it is. Whether it's a washer, debris, ice particles, I don't know. But it's characteristic of the thousands of things which I've seen. What is not so characteristic is it appears to [have] come from nowhere.”

More UFO sightings came during the Space Shuttle (STS) missions. In 1996, Story Musgrave, a Payload Specialist crew member aboard the STS-80 Mission, reported seeing a disc-shaped object much larger than the shuttle which he could not explain come out of nowhere. On the STS-115 Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2006, four different types of UFO phenomena were reported -- a long rectangular object that appeared to be keeping pace with the shuttle, an object seen moving in a co-orbital path, an object that looked like "a reflective cloth … It's not a solid metal structure,” and ring or donut-like white objects that NASA later said were ice. While photos were taken and released of these encounters, none are clear enough to positively identify the objects.

It is interesting that so many Astronaut Group 2 astronauts reported UFO sgihtings. Were they allowed to give their reports before NASA and the governemnt decided to supress them? In addition to these reports, many more astronauts have said that they felt they were being watched by extraterrestrials while in space, and many have strong beliefs that UFOs are extraterrestrial ships piloted by alien beings. As the late James McDivitt pointed out, it seems that NASA has long preferred to cover up, dismiss or just plain look away from these sightings by the only humans who have traveled far enough into space to have encountered what could be signs of alien ships.

Astronaut James McDivitt passed away at the age of 93 without ever knowing for sure what he saw out of that window of his Gemini 4 space capsule. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait 93 years more for definitive answers on UFOs and extraterrestrials.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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