By Bill Knell
When a sci-fi fan thinks about UFOs or Aliens, images and descriptions from their favorite fictional film, TV series or book tends to pop into their thoughts. Sci-fi has been a powerful force in bringing the real and unreal about these subjects into our heads. Early stories found in picture books and dime novels from the turn of the century mirrored theories about canals on Mars. Images of Martians living by and traveling on those supposed waterways were trendy. During the 1920s to 1940s rockets became wildly popular and there were amateur rocket clubs all over the world. News of Robert Goddard’s successful experiments with rocketry near Roswell, NM, during that period added to the fever. In the world of science fiction, people were now traveling by rocket to our nearby planets to confront both friendly humanoids and horrifying space monsters! But all that soon changed.
The 1950s brought us the golden age of modern science. We had begun to explore our environment more fully, started to reach out into space and developed fantastic inventions like the super computer. Some say that the 1950s put the SCIENCE in SCIENCE FICTION. Sci-fi stories became more believable because they were based on actual scientific theory or practical scientific fact. The same may be said of sci-fi stories about UFOs and Aliens. The 1950’s ushered in the golden age of the Flying Saucers. While sci-fi stories in previous decades ignored descriptions of creatures and crafts from actual sightings in favor of what science conjectured, things changed when alleged FACT became more interesting then FICTION!
Most sci-fi books, publications, television presentations and films took notice of the fact that pilots, police officers and other credible witnesses were coming forward with accounts of seeing unknown aerial phenomenon and having encounters with odd beings that were too close for comfort. Although many were wildly exaggerated, the sci-fi genre picked up on the actual descriptions of crafts and creatures and incorporated these into their stories. This trend continued until the late 1960s when sci-fi moved back in the direction of a mixture of what actual science says is possible and the author’s imagination. It’s largely remained there.
Although sticking to the theme of science mixed with pure fantasy, sci-fi still occasionally plays the reality card and cashes in on the popularity of non-fiction UFO stories and encounters. With the popularity of real UFO sighting, Crop Circle and Alien Abduction stories at an all time high in the 1970s-1990s, films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Fire In The Sky, Independence Day, Men In Black and Signs made it big at the box office. While the sci-fi genre tends to make real stories of UFOs and Creatures a bit easier to swallow, more fun and sometimes a bit more frightening, the actual history of sightings and encounters is no less interesting.
Strange objects have been seen in the sky for thousands of years. Many are explainable, some are not. It might surprise you to know that many ancient civilizations had a basic understanding of what they saw in the sky, using it for navigation and direction finding purposes. Ancient people were as surprised and shocked as modern UFO Witnesses when they saw discs, cigar-shaped objects and strange balls of light that seemed under intelligent control. We know about their experiences because they took the time to chronicle sightings just as people do today. Landings, crop circles and other physical phenomena associated with UFOs were often explained away as or associated with religious experiences or devilish activity.
UFO occupants have also been with us throughout history. Sightings of small pale or gray beings and other types of creatures have been reported in conjunction with sightings. It’s possible that worldwide stories of small beings like leprechauns, trolls, faeries and others with great powers may have their origin in the UFO phenomenon. Some Native American groups, for example, trace their ancestry to the skies and claim they were brought here by small beings with great powers.
As humans have acquired the technology to better study the world around them over the past 150 years, incidents of strange aerial phenomenon have been better documented. From 1800-1900 these objects became known as airships. Thousands of carefully documented sightings were printed in reputable newspapers throughout the world, along with drawings showing the typical discs, cigar shapes and glowing balls of light. When photography became affordable and available to the general public, photographic evidence for UFOs rapidly grew. With there were and continue to be more then a few fakes or photos of known objects misidentified as UFOs, we now have many clear, daytime photos, film and video of UFOs.
1947 was the year of the UFO. Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot, former military flier and respected businessman, was flying his aircraft near Mount Rainier in Washington State on June 24, 1947. He saw several strange objects traveling at a tremendous speed and reported this incident after landing. Arnold said the objects moved in a strange way like tossed rocks skipping across the water. He described them as looking like broken saucers with the cup inverted on top. The press picked up the description and the term Flying Saucer was born. Two weeks later the U.S. Government released a press release saying that a ‘flying disc’ had crashed and been retrieved near Roswell, NM. They later changed their story saying it was merely a weather balloon. But stories of other crashes and close encounters persisted.
By 1949, the U.S. Military was faced with reports of strange things seen in the sky by thousands of people. Stories of crashed discs and flying saucers had caught the public’s attention and people wanted answers Many witnesses were trained observers and some were pilots. During WWII, U.S. Military pilots reported encounters with strange aerial phenomenon and nicknamed them Foo Fighters. The Military decided that the Air Force would investigate these type of incidents and, in 1949, Project Blue Book was born. Bluebook created the term U.F.O. (Unidentified Flying Object) as an umbrella to fit all the sightings under. As one former un-named Air Force General said, “The Air Force is not going to investigate cups and saucers flying around the sky!”
In 1969 a report based on Bluebook was issued to the public which stated that 95% of all UFO sightings were explainable, 5% were not and the objects seen posed no threat to national security. Revelations from thousands of freedom of information documents, military whistleblowers and statements by foreign governments have shown us that Bluebook was a smoke screen designed to satisfy public curiosity and that there was far more to this phenomenon then what the military had reported. In 1988, for example, the former Soviet Union issued a statement claiming that a UFO had landed in a park in Russia, occupants had been seen and that these objects were likely of extra-terrestrial origin. One former Soviet document is a letter written by the head of NASA warning the Russians that American Astronauts had seen and encountered odd crafts while on the Moon. The letter is dated 1969 and has a reference number on it, but NASA says they no longer have a copy, can’t locate the reference number and so cannot verify the document.
One scientist that worked on the final Bluebook report was Dr J. Allen Hynek a professor from Northwestern University. After looking at reports and evidence that existed apart from Bluebook, he decided that the project had ignored the best evidence in favor of lesser cases that could easily be explained away. He created the Dr. J. Allen Hynek Center for UFOs Studies with the hope that a scientific study of the phenomenon would yield more then what the Government found. It was Hynek that created a simple way to describe contact with UFOs in scientific terms. A Close Encounter of the First Kind was a sighting. A Close Encounter of the Second Kind involved physical evidence like a crop circle. A Close Encounter of the Third Kind was contact with a UFO Occupant. Although Hynek didn’t think much of Abduction stories, a Close Encounter of the Fourth Kind is a term generally used to describe UFO Abduction Cases. Hynek passed away in the late 1980s.
Some common explanations for UFOs are ball lightening, misidentified private, commercial or military aircraft and natural phenomenon. There are problems with these explanations. Ball lightning appears so briefly if is rarely photographed. Many pilots themselves see UFOs and would know the difference between planes and something else. Most people that report sightings no longer bother to report far off objects in the sky that might be natural phenomenon, but tend to report close encounters that defy explanation. Within the field of what some call Ufology, there are two groups that have come to define the investigation of unknown Ariel Phenomenon. These are the True Believers and The Skeptics. The True Believers are certain that UFOs defy explanation, while the Skeptics believe that all or most sightings can eventually be explained in a conventional way. Ironically, it’s these two groups that do the most harm to the serious study of UFOs. Both are certain about their beliefs with little or no room for science, hypothesis or debate. For my part, it seems more desirable to be somewhere in the middle of the two with room for movement in either direction on a case by case basis.
Stories of objects and creatures from space remain with us and are unlikely to vanish as long as sci-fi writers write and people continue to report what they feel are actual encounters with strange Ariel Phenomenon and the Beings that travel in them.