On Wednesday, members of the NASA advisory board tasked with studying unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) held its first public meeting, debuting its plan for how it would proceed with a report it is scheduled to write this year. Among many topics discussed, several of its members (and NASA officials) stressed that they were not specifically undertaking a hunt for aliens.
"I want to emphasize this loud and proud that there is absolutely no convincing evidence for extraterrestrial life associated with UAPs," said Dan Evans, the assistant deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Evans is responsible for orchestrating the study on UAP.
During the four-hour meeting, which was livestreamed on the web, the team said that insufficient data and stigma about the topic remain significant barriers to uncovering the nature of UAPs. Panel chairman David Spergel remarked that the team's role was "not to resolve the nature of these events" but to create a road map for NASA that could potentially guide future inquiries into the topic.
NASA formed the UAP team in 2022 with 16 experts in scientific disciplines like physics and astrobiology to investigate "observations of events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or as known natural phenomena."
In decades prior, unexplained objects in the sky were officially referred to as UFOs (unidentified flying objects). But US officials later changed the initialism to "UAP," meaning "unidentified aerial phenomena," to avoid some of the sci-fi stigma associated with the UFO term. In the past year, the US government redefined the "A" in UAP to mean "anomalous" and expanded the definition to include phenomena that might occur underwater or in space.
Public interest in UFOs has spiked in recent years due to leaks of US Navy videos, high-profile articles in The New York Times, and coverage of a 2004 incident by 60 Minutes. The new round of UFO mania resulted in many high-ranking US government officials, including former President Obama, making public remarks about the unusual nature of unknown objects apparently flying in US airspace.
NASA's civilian panel marks a departure from previous government approaches, which historically placed the investigation of UAP under military or national security control. Unlike the Pentagon's ongoing study of UAP sightings reported by military aviators, the NASA panel is solely scrutinizing unclassified reports from civilian observers.
“We don’t even know what we’re supposed to monitor”
A recurring issue during Wednesday's NASA meeting was that the UAP panel members do not know exactly what they are looking for. In one exchange during the session, after debating the nature of sensors necessary to observe UAPs accurately, several members described their frustration with attempting to study ill-defined phenomena.
"I think we're not looking for a needle in a haystack, we're looking for an anomaly in a haystack. We don't even know that we're looking for a needle," said Mike Gold, the executive vice president of Civil Space and External Affairs at Redwire.