WASHINGTON — NASA will commission a small independent study of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), a move the agency says is part of its desire to support high-risk research that could yield high payoffs.
The agency announced on June 9 that it will establish an independent team of researchers that, beginning in the fall, will spend approximately nine months examining what data is available on UAPs and making recommendations on what additional data should be collected. to better understand the phenomena. A final report will be made public at the end of the investigation.
Sightings of UAPs have attracted a lot of attention in recent years, including investigations by two groups set up by the Department of Defense. However, there is no consensus to explain such sightings, mainly by military aviators, with motivations ranging from advanced weapons and extraterrestrial objects to natural phenomena or various objects, such as balloons.
The goal of the study, NASA associate administrator for science Thomas Zurbuchen, told reporters, is to “take a field that has relatively little data and turn it into a field that is much more data-rich and therefore scientifically worthy.” is. research and analysis.”
The study will be chaired by David Spergel, an astrophysicist who is president of the Simons Foundation. “Our plan is to launch an open investigation which we hope will increase our understanding so that when this is done we will at least have a roadmap of how to proceed,” he said during the call.
He later said the only bias he had about UAPs going into the study is that the data could be explained by several phenomena. NASA stressed in its statement on the study that there is “no evidence that UAPs are of extraterrestrial origin.”
“Never underestimate what nature can do,” Zurbuchen said. “Sometimes we have the claim that we understand the natural world and that anything that is not explained by the natural laws we have now is somehow not natural. I really believe there is still a lot to learn.”
Dan Evans, assistant deputy associate administrator for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said the research team will include scientists, aviation experts and “data practitioners.” The study, he said, will be set up like committees NASA regularly sets up to review grant proposals, and will have a similar budget that he said is unlikely to exceed $100,000.
With that limited budget and schedule, Evans said the focus will be on identifying existing data and data gaps, rather than finding an explanation or explanations for UAPs. “The first step in any scientific investigation is to find out what data is available,” he said. “We’re not actually going to analyze that data directly, within that budget. This is only step one: what data is there that could influence the problem.”
Earlier in the day, Zurbuchen announced the UAP study at a meeting of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board (SSB). He presented it as an example of “high-risk, high-impact” research, which he felt the agency should do more.
“Taking risk is necessary for innovation and leadership in breeding,” he said at the meeting. “We argue that failure can in fact be an option. We think about failure all the time, and we feel good about that.”
He said at the meeting that, in conversations with scientists, 8 out of 10 told him the agency wasn’t doing enough high-risk/high-impact research. Grant proposal evaluators found that 3% of such proposals fell into the high risk/high impact category. “My gut says it should be bigger.”
During both the SSB meeting and the call with reporters, Zurbuchen acknowledged the “reputation risk” associated with studying UAPs. “In a traditional kind of scientific setting, talking about some of these issues could be considered out-of-print or non-real science,” he said in the call. “I am really against that. I truly believe that the quality of science is not measured by the output that comes from it, but also by the questions we want to tackle with science.”
Members of the SSB showed little overt interest in the UAP study he announced, instead using a question-and-answer session to discuss issues of research funding and demographics, as well as the status of specific missions and programs.