NASA’s UFO panel: stigma surrounding reporting sightings hinders efforts

Workers freshen up the paint on the NASA logo on the Vehicle Assembly Building before the arrival of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley at the Kennedy Space Center on May 20, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Workers freshen up the paint on the NASA logo on the Vehicle Assembly Building before the arrival of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley at the Kennedy Space Center on May 20, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo credit Joe Raedle/Getty Images

NASA’s panel tasked with studying reports of “unidentified anomalous phenomena” held its first hearing on Wednesday, during which researchers discussed the stigma around reporting UFOs and the harassment people receive when investigating them.

“We have a community of people who are completely convinced of the existence of UFOs, and we have a community of people who think addressing this question is ridiculous,” David Spergel, the panel’s chair, said during the hearing. “And I think as scientists, the way to approach questions is you start by saying, ‘We don’t know,’ and then you collect data and you try to calibrate your data well.”

The panel shared that the stigmas around discussing and looking into UAPs, or UFOs, are hindering the nation’s efforts to determine their origins.

During its first hearing, the panel presented a draft of its findings and investigations into the reports it received throughout the last year, with a final report expected to be published sometime this summer.

Among the things addressed in the report is the team’s need for more high-quality data, which it says is imperative to properly investigating reported sightings.

So far, the panel does not think that the evidence received by the team supports the theory that reports of UFOs have anything to do with aliens, Daniel Evans, the assistant deputy associate administrator for research in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said.

“There could potentially be very serious risks to U.S. airspace as a result of us not necessarily knowing what is in our skies at a given time,” Evans said at Wednesday’s news briefing.

Still, Evans isn’t ruling extraterrestrial origins out, but rather, the group is more concerned about broader national security concerns.

KCBS Radio’s Bret Burkhart and Niki Medoro spoke with Mike Wall, a Senior Writer with, about the panel and their recent findings.

“What the military is really concerned about is whether these things pose a national security threat,” Wall said. “If [UAPs] are some advanced Chinese or advanced Russian aircraft that we didn’t know about or is super advanced, they want to be able to get as much data about it as possible to investigate it.”

The public is also being encouraged to submit any sightings they have that are unexplained. However, Wall did share that, oftentimes, things that are normal in the night sky get reported by those who are just unfamiliar with what’s up there.

“They are seeing a lot of things in the sky that they can’t necessarily identify. As we learned a few months ago with the whole Chinese spy balloon debacle, there are things up there,” Wall said. “There’s a lot of things up there that we don’t know about either because they’re hush-hush or so benign.”

When it comes to where Wall thinks the panel will go from here, the only path forward in his eyes is to “keep on investigating.”

“We’re in a new era where, with NASA and the military and the U.S. government in general, wants this to be more open and public facing to kind of remove that stigma,” Wall said, adding that their main priority seemed to be to“get better data.”

Sean Kirkpatrick, the director of the Defense Department’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, spoke during the hearing. Kirkpatrick shared that the vast majority of the reports received are sightings of unusual orbs or round spheres being spotted at aircraft flying altitudes.

However, he stressed that “without sufficient data, we are unable to reach defensible conclusions that meet the highest scientific standards set for resolution.”

NASA’s science chief, Nicola Fox, also spoke during the hearing, saying that the stigma around reporting unidentified aerial phenomena needs to end. She even shared that members of the space agency’s panel have faced harassment online for their efforts in addressing the unknown.

“Harassment only leads to further stigmatization of the UAP field, significantly hindering the scientific progress and discouraging others to study this important subject matter,” Fox said.

Overall, the science chief stressed that the only thing harassment accomplishes is the obstruction of the “public’s right to knowledge.”

“At NASA, we lead the world in exploration and are committed to rigorous scientific inquiry,” she said. “The nature of science is to better understand the unknown. And to do that, our scientists need data.”

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images