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A shaky start for NASA's UAP office
Who thought hiding the new director's name was a good idea?
NASA’s decision to join UFO/UAP research efforts, after decades of relying exclusively on radiotelescopes as the sole model for encountering ET, means relinquishing control of the narrative to fast-moving events in Earth’s own atmosphere — and a dose of culture shock.
OK, look, I’m not gonna lie – I’ve been a NASA fan ever since I started reporting news from the Space Coast when Jimmy Carter was president. I loved the proximity of big science and the ostentatious way it painted the skies. Gateway to the Stars, cheering on the planetary missions, raising a backyard beer to curiosity’s exhaust plumes — there was, and is, no community like it. Even when the sirens lured our aspirations into the rocks, smashing two space shuttles and killing 14 pioneers, destroying satellites mid-flight, crippling them in orbit, I knew the investigation would be thorough, honest, and open. Management teams might fold, careers might end, but credibility was the agency’s key to survival. Because the mission – venturing into the sprawling mystery – was sacred stuff.
And if you believed in it, you didn’t want to be naive, either.
I attended Steven Greer’s 2001 “Disclosure Project” conference in Washington, where former NASA employee Donna Hare charged the agency with routinely scrubbing UFOs from official photos prior to public release. I listened to Carol Rosin, personal assistant to Wernher von Braun, saying NASA’s former top rocket scientist warned that space was going to be militarized against ET “threats.” I followed the debates over the still-unresolved STS-48 mission in 1991, where orbiter-cam footage showed a white blip reversing course moments before dodging an apparent projectile of light that bisected its path. The unofficial establishment explanation for that one was ice crystals responding to shuttle thrusters, but NASA never formally weighed in.
I’ve lost count of how many alleged NASA UFO encounters I followed over the years. Granted, because of Pentagon payloads, 10 space shuttle missions from the 1980s and early 90s remain totally or partially classified today. But nothing persuasive, or unambiguous, pointed to subterfuge or coverups.
No overnight reboot for the agency culture
Let me also say this about NASA administrator Bill Nelson. He used to be the House rep for my Florida district, was a serious consumer advocate as state Insurance Commissioner, kept an eye on the environment, and was regarded as consensus-building centrist in the U.S. Senate. Having flown aboard Columbia in 1986, Nelson was a reasonable choice as the space agency director, and his candid remarks in 2021 about the Navy Tic Tac incident were utterly rational.
Nelson’s decision last year to support NASA’s entry into UFO research was another welcome and unprecedented move. Given the commotion on Capitol Hill, the space agency’s formation of an Independent Study Team’s to produce a “roadmap” for collecting and evaluating unclassified data was a no-brainer. While the telegraphed biases of certain members of its 16-person study team were disappointing, they weren’t surprising, either. When it comes to chasing intelligent life out there, NASA for 40 years has subscribed rigidly to SETI, radiotelescopes, and the theory that they can’t get here from there. And you can’t reprogram that culture overnight.
So, for the record: NASA’s Thursday morning press conference to publicize its 36-page tutorial on how to standardize and advance UFO research made history. And maybe someday, its UAP Independent Study Team Report, which called for interagency cooperation and the reconfiguration of its assets to acquire open-source UFO data, will be lauded retroactively as a visionary document.
But after giving it a quick scan, and noting its heavy reliance on the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office for UFO images, I kept thinking, what if? What if, instead of merely telling us that “NASA can model for the public how best to approach the study of UAP, by utilizing transparent reporting, rigorous analysis, and public engagement,” what if the Study Team had given us an actual, in-house example of what their version of rigorous analysis looks like? What if rigorous analysis was applied not only to future collaboration with the likes of AARO and the FAA, but to its own archives for data we’ve already accumulated and paid for?
Show us, don’t tell us
What if they’d decided to surprise everybody at Thursday’s presser by leading with a textbook assessment of what happened on STS-48? Prosaic or true unknown, it doesn’t matter, just the idea of it. Yeah, the Study Team had declared from the outset it had no plans to address past UFO incidents – but it obviously had no problem making an exception to include its analysis of the 2015 Navy “GoFast” video, especially after determining to its satisfaction the object was doing a mere 40 mph and was likely traveling with prevailing winds at 13,000 feet.
What we got instead felt flat and lusterless. Repeated assurances that a) the Study Team had found no evidence of extraterrestrial origins for UAP, and that b) NASA’s all slathered in transparency, seemed rote, maybe a bit dogmatic. This, even as Nelson took the sorts of questions none of his predecessors could’ve imagined. The NASA press corps of days past likely couldn’t have imagined it, either. They asked about the alleged ET mummies being paraded before Mexican lawmakers on Tuesday. They asked about David Grusch, the former intelligence officer charging unnamed Pentagon bureaucracies with the illegal concealment of UFO evidence.
“A long time ago,” the NASA boss responded, “there was a TV show, Jack Friday. And he used to say, ‘Just the facts, just the facts.’ Show me the evidence.”
Actually, the show’s name was “Dragnet” and Friday’s first name was Joe, and I despise myself for admitting I even know this shit. But documentary filmmaker James Fox posed a couple of questions that exposed some gaps in the space agency’s talking points.
“How can we make a determination of what something isn’t if we don’t know what it is?” he began. Furthermore, if NASA determines that the phenomena “originate from a nonhuman intelligence, what’s the plan to disclose that to the public?”
“Well let me repeat what I said,” Nelson replied after a pause. “I think it’s important that you hear this word for word. The NASA Independent Study Team did not find any evidence UAP have an extraterrestrial origin.” That wasn’t the question. Nelson went on to repeat himself (again) about commitment to transparency. Fox pressed for a specific answer about an actual disclosure plan in the event of NHI confirmation. “If we are what I said we intend to be, which is transparent, you bet your boots,” Nelson replied. “We will say that . . . But whatever we find, we’re gonna tell you.”
Whoops! Good catch — thanks
Tough to answer such a paradigm-smashing hypothetical. But then, boom, very next question, a Reuters reporter follows up on the announcement that NASA has appointed a Director of UAP Research to liaison with other federal agencies: What’s the new guy’s name?
Nicola Fox, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate: “We will not give his name out, no.”
It actually took the suits seven hours to realize that headline puns about NASA Unable to Identify UFO Director were a pretty shabby look for transparency. So they casually slipped Mark McInerney’s name into the sixth paragraph of an “updated” earlier statement it had issued to the press, like, hey man, it’s just another name, so what, no big deal. “McInerney previously served as NASA’s liaison to the Department of Defense covering limited UAP activities for the agency,” they tell us in graph 7. “In the director role, he will centralize communications, resources, and data analytical capabilities to establish a robust database for the evaluation of future UAP.”
Sounds like he’ll be busy, but let’s get real. With David Grusch’s allegations dominating the UFO conversation – exotic hardware, corpses, coverups, retaliation, maybe even murder? – as Congress reconvenes, NASA’s playing tortoise to this news hare. The space agency’s tone-deaf impulse to shield the name of its top high-strangeness research guy tells us the stigma remains alive and well among leadership claiming to reject it.
For the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies – one of the most active and astute networks of independent researchers – NASA’s envisioned goal of being a mere “contributor” to AARO is beyond problematic. In voting to endorse NASA’s path forward, SCU board members issued a warning in a press release on Friday:
“AARO is tied to national defense organizations and is driven by the needs of our defense industry, which necessarily cannot promote scientific openness. While we acknowledge that AARO is necessary to investigate the defense-related aspects of UAP, SCU strongly recommends that Congress provide the necessary funding and resources to allow NASA to independently lead U.S. scientific research programs, just as in France UAP research is led by the nation’s civilian space agency.”
Good luck with that. NASA has much to contribute, if it actually chooses to lead. Right now, it’s not clear who, or what, exactly, the space agency is listening to.
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