Committed to studying unidentified flying objects (UFOs) more deliberately here on out, NASA on Thursday (14 September) said it had appointed a director of research for the specialised work.
This new position is a direct response to recommendations put forth by an external independent study team assembled by NASA last year.
NASA’s UAP study team comprised 16 experts from diverse backgrounds in science, technology, data, artificial intelligence, space exploration, aerospace safety, media, and commercial innovation.
They used unclassified data from civilian government entities, commercial data, and data from other sources to inform their findings and recommendations in the report.
After their study, the team has laid a focus on improving the collection and analysis of data regarding "unidentified anomalous phenomena" (UAP) — a new way to say UFOs.
"There are currently a limited number of high-quality observations of UAP, which currently make it impossible to draw firm scientific conclusions about their nature," NASA said.
In their report released Thursday, the study panel did not offer a definitive answer regarding the existence of extraterrestrial beings traversing Earth's skies.
Nevertheless, the report does advocate for NASA to play a more significant role in addressing this question.
During a news conference, NASA administrator Bill Nelson emphasised the agency's commitment to transparency in this endeavour.
He highlighted the work of NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars, currently collecting rock samples that may hold clues about ancient life on the planet, and the James Webb Space Telescope, studying distant stars and their planets to determine if they could potentially support life.
According to the NASA chief, the UAP investigation similarly aligns with the United States space agency's curiosity about the existence of life beyond Earth.
It is the first such effort by NASA as they take concrete steps to delve into UAPs.
Although the director of UAP research has been serving in this capacity for some time, NASA initially declined to disclose his name.
The director's identity was kept confidential for about seven hours after the report's release.
During the news conference, Dr Nicola Fox, the associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate, said the identity would not be shared with the public.
However, in an updated news release, NASA revealed that Mark McInerney is the director of UAP research.
Prior to this role, he acted as NASA's liaison with the Defense Department for UAP matters.
McInerney's previous experience includes various positions at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Hurricane Center.
Possibly fearing harassment of the director, reportedly experienced by some members of the independent study panel, Dr Fox said on X: "As we continue to digest the study team’s report and findings, please treat him with respect in this pivotal role to help us better scientifically understand UAP."
The US government's knowledge of UAPs has recently become a hot-button issue.
During a House oversight subcommittee hearing in July, lawmakers questioned a former intelligence official who claimed to possess knowledge of a government cover-up involving extraterrestrial technology.
UAPs, by definition, and as even the name indicates, are unknown objects or phenomena.
There is always the possibility that some of the observed phenomena could be related to undiscovered atmospheric occurrences or deployment of advanced technology or even weaponry.
It would be helpful to adopt a scientific and rational approach to probing these seemingly strange instances. The collection and analysis of data would be key for this mission.
"The nature of science is to explore the unknown, and data is the language scientists use to discover our universe’s secrets," Dr Fox says in her foreword to the report.
To enhance the understanding of UAPs, the panel recommends that NASA use its Earth-observing instruments to gather environmental data that aligns with UAP reports.
Additionally, involving the public in the process by encouraging them to submit a wider range of observations, possibly through a smartphone app, would be beneficial.
Ultimately, good data will make the difference. Good insights can be extracted from good data.
By encouraging the collection of data, the hope is to create a more open and accepting environment for sharing and discussing experiences that otherwise attract stigma and ridicule.
The panel also recommends the use of advanced computer algorithms, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, to analyse UAP reports.
These algorithms can help identify subtle patterns within the reports that may contribute to a better understanding of the underlying phenomena.
The UAP study was announced in June 2022 by Thomas Zurbuchen, who was then the associate administrator of the science mission directorate.
Dr Zurbuchen had said that examining UFO reports could be a "high-risk, high-impact kind of research," potentially revealing entirely new scientific phenomena or, on the other hand, yielding no new or interesting findings at all.
Karan Kamble writes on science and technology. He occasionally wears the hat of a video anchor for Swarajya's online video programmes.
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