"UFOs are real, all right, - It's some of IFOs that are phony"
                               By James E. Oberg
Reprinted from ANALOG - Science Fiction, Science Fact - November 1976
with with kind permission of the author of this article- James E.  Oberg.
The first contact between human beings and alien civilizations is major topic
in science fiction. It has been a fruitful theme for stories and novels about
Martians, Moties and manifold other creatures. Many observers today believe
that such contact has already taken place on earth, or in space near the
earth, The "extraterrestrial hypothesis" of UFOs claims that they are
space craft from other worlds.
Hardly a UFO book or movie fails to point out that "astronauts have seen them
too."  If the tens of thousands of earthbound witnessed and photographs may be
questionable. at least (so these advocate maintain) the space reports are
reliable. The "astronaut sighting" provide a challenging controlled case study
in UFO methodology. A researcher should be able to determine all the
variables, obtain extensive transcripts and verified photographs, and observe
the behavior of prvious researchers.
I have been interested in space mysteries for a long time. This phenomenon was
intriguing, but I refrained from serious work because I felt certain that the
field has already been adequately covered by "UFO believers" and the
University of Colorado (Condon Committee) investigators. My unique background
in computer science, Air Force operations, astronautics, and historical
research did not seem to promise any additional insights. But after an initial
investigation this year, I changed my mind. After three further months of
intensive effort, I came to some startling and eye-opening conclusions,
conclusions never seen in print. Compelling evidence has accumulated to
convince me of the truth of the following:
1. There are no "astronaut UFO sightings."  All reported cases have been
readily identified as entirely prosaic events.
2. Previous research efforts heve been conducted with individuals clearly
lacking the proper credentials, experience and insight to penetrate the
3. A number of specific individuals in this country and overseas have been the
main source of the persistent published reports of "astronaut UFO sightings ",
in absolute variance with the facts known to themselves but witheld from the
general public. Evidence has been altered, omitted, or fabricated to support
My research furthermore revealed carelesness, gullibility, and distortion on
the part of respected UFO ressearch groups succh as MUFON, APRO, NICAP, and
CUFOS. One may certainly hope that these groups, and the hundreds of
hardworking, dedicated, and honest members of their investigation teams, have
been more careful when it comes to investigating terrestrial sightings.
What is the evidence? Always realizing that it is impossible to "prove a
negative", what can I prove about the "best cases" of the "astronaut UFO
sightings" genre? Is there a slightest suggestion that anything mysterious and
unexplainable is involved?
The best cases of Gemini program (196501966) were described by Dr.  Franklin
Roach of the Condon Committee as a "chalenge to the analyst".  Despite the
man's impressive experience with the space program, one can easily see
the gaps which challenged his own powers of analysis. It is also clear that
the UFO groups eagerly accepted the "endorsement" of the skeptical Condon
Report which otherwise was seen by many to have been a whitewash of the
goevernments's UFO activities.
Roach, now living in Hawaii, listed the sightings on Gemini-4 and Gemini-7 as
practically unsolvable. Other researchers have compiled even longer lists,
going back to Mercury-7 (a "domed saucer" in a photograph), Mercury-9 ( "radar
sightings of  a visual target"), Gemini-1 ("four objects tracked by radar for
one orbit"), early X-15 flights in 1962, and later Gemini flights including
Gemini-10, Gemini-11, and Gemini-12 ("four objects, not stars").  During
Apollo, reports were published about Apollo-11 and Apollo-12 being chased
on the way to the moon, while "Apro Bulletin" had to caution its readers that
there was no reason to suspect that UFOs had shot down Apollo-13. Skylab
photographed more UFOs, including a paddle-shaped object of immense size, a
strange reddish framework, and a cigar shaped object which has just buzzed an
Army helicopter in Ohio. These, at least, published reports.
As with terrestrial reports, an observer may be inclined to agree that "most
may be explainable", but that a hard core of cases (perhaps 20%, perhaps 5%,
perhaps 1%) are authentic. UFO evidence, unlike proverbial chain which is as
strong as its weakest link, is oddly enough as weak as it strongest link. What
this means is that dsiproving a single case, or almost all cases, proves
nothing; there is alway one more case which might be a true UFO. To demolish
that posibility, a skeptic must takle what the believers consider to be the
best case, and show just how good they really are. Up until my research, not a
single investigator had done that. After my research (to be published in
excruciating detail), the "astronaut UFO cases" will never be the same.
The Gemini-4 of Major James McDivitt is by large the "best" case of the class
during fifteen years of Soviet and American manned space flights. A
photograph, allegedly taken by the astronaut, has been picke dby NICAP as one
of the four best photogaphs ever taken anywhere. The retired astronaut has
appeared on numeruous TV talk shows, was invited to participate in a 1976
Playboy magazine UFO panel, and recently taken part in a long playin UFO
record album.
Early on the two- man four day mission in June 1965, McDivitt reported seeing
and photogaphing a cylindrical object with an arm sticking out. It was
apparently on collision course with the capsule. Ed White, the co-pilot, was
asleep at the time. Back on earth, NASA asked the Air Force to check with the
North American Defense Command (NORAD) space radars in Colorado to see what
other satellites were near enough to Gemini-4 to account for the sighting. A
computer run came up with a list of dozen objects , mostly debris.  One large
satellite, called Pegasus-3, was about a thousand miles away at the time of
sighting, but might have accounted for the report. But it was too far away for
the space pilot to have seen the details which he described.
Upon returning to earth, McDivitt searched through all the films taken on
flight. He could not find the ones he took of the object, a fact which some
observers found suspicious. Shortly thereafter, a photograph appeared in print
(I was never able to find out who was first with this accomplishement) which
purported to be "McDivitt's UFO. It showed an oval blob of light with a smear
over it. NASA said it was a glare of a window bolt and smudges on the glass
My own search leads me to the inescapable conclusion that McDIvitt had caught
a glimpse of his own Titan-2 second stage booster which was in a nearby orbit.
This hypothesis sounds trivial and laughable at first (at least those were my
own impressions), with the major objection being the question of why it took
so long to prove such an obvious answer. However, many facts have never been
added up, and there have been few paople willing to either dig up the facts or
to do the adding up. NASA was not concerned McDivitt was a UFO celebrity, and
the UFO groups already had an "official endorsement" of the case and were not
interested in further investigation of what they rightly considered one their
most persuasive cases.
Here are the relevant facts, never published together:
1. McDivitt had been maneuvering around the booster early in the flight in the
world's first attempt at a space rendezvous. He broke off the attempt after an
unknown amount of successes when the capsule fuel ran low.
2. McDivitt continued to see the booster on subsequent revolutions when the
orbits of the two satellites (which were nearly parallel) crossed.
3. McDivitt saw his UFO at the same point in the Gemini orbit where he had
last seen the booster several hours before.
4. Mc Divitt had earlier seen the booster at least once but failed to
recognize it due to sun glare. He reported an "unkown object" to Mission
Control, only to correct himself moments later when he recognized the
characteristic beer-can shape of the booster, metal straps and insulation
hanging off it.
5. At the news conference a few days after the flight, McDivitt clearly stated
thet the UFO looked just like a rocket booster.
6. McDivitt saw the UFO through small Gemini window (about the angular size of
this magazine at arms lenght - 25cm) badly smeared by Ed White's attempt to
clean them during his walk in space the previous day.
7. The object drifted across the field of view while the capsule was in slow
tumble, and then was lost in the glare of the SUN.
8. McDivitt's observation that the object seemed at first to have been on
collision course can only mean one thing to a pilot: it held a constant "angle
off", or relative angle of the line of sight. This clearly implies an object
in parallel orbit.
9. McDivitt later complained to flight surgeons that his eyes were very red
and teary at this part of flight. "I didn't think I was going to be able to
hack it", Mc Divitt reported to earth the following day. A large accidential
urine spill a few hours before the sighting had not helped his eye sight.
10. The booster did remain in orbit somewhere for at least another day before
burning up in the atmosphere, according to NORAD figures.
11. NORAD had been asked to plot an intersection of the Gemini orbit and
"other satellites", which was taken to mean "other previously-launched
satellites".  The booster, which was in a neraby orbit, was NOT on the list of
objects supplied to NASA.
12. McDivitt was the first astronaut to attempt to make visual range estimates
while in flight. Many of his readings were off by a fact of ten; his
experience helped later crewmen be more accurate.
13. Gemini-4 was the first long American space mission, and the first on which
photography was attempted on large scale. Exposure settings in space were
uncertain, and a very large percentage of Gemini-4 photographs were badly
exposed. Many photographs were aparently taken with the lens cap still in
14. McDivitt completely disassociated himself from the "McDivitt UFO"
photograph, and reiterates his contention the he never saw anything on film
which looked like his UFO. Since he had copies of the film manifests and log,
he was able to determine that he had been shown all film exposed on the
15. McDivitt was never particularly impressed by the UFO, while taking
advantage of the opportunities his testimony afforded. He still maintains that
it was probably some man-made object.
Where do these facts leave us when we consider them all? What do they add up
to? Where do they leave "McDivitt UFO?" UFO researchers and writers have been
repeating this story for more than a decade without many of these fifteen
facts. Where does that leave your trust in them? Clearly the main mystery is
why and how this case ever achieved the notoriety and fame which it did. The
mystery is how a major "anti-UFO" study can leave it unsolved, and how a UFO
group can pick an overexposed, smudged photograph as one of the four "best UFO
photographs ever taken."
(Actually, I agree:  the photograph is a lousy shot and proves nothing, but it
still does qualify as one of the best ever compared with its competition.)
I naturally expected that McDivitt himself would be curious to see this new
development in a puzzle which has been bothering him for a decade, so I sent
him an advance copy of the manuscript.  In public, he has recently said, "I
was never able to find out what it was, and nobody else ever did either."  The
air of mystery was enhanced by McDivitt's often quoted opinion that nobody
will ever solve this UFO sighting.
After eight weeks, McDivitt returned my manuscript with a brief disappointing
note.  With the time spent on talk shows and records, he did not have time to
study the report or offer any comments or criticism whatsoever.  He did
"glance through it," wished me luck as a writer, and subtly informed me
that he was not interested in any solution to a puzzle which continues to
bring him publicity and attention.
Another famous case, recently revived, concerns the Gemini-11 photographs of
what NASA identified as the Soviet Union Proton-3 satellite.  NORAD prediction
(the computer was projecting forward some sightins made a day earlier) put the
Soviet satellite a few hundred miles behind the Gemini over the Indian Ocean
on Sept 12, 1966.  The crew, however, reported an object quite close in.
Their photographs show resolvable detail and large angular size.  Therefore,
say UFO investigators, the object was "too big to have been at the range of
Proton-3, or much closer than Proton-3."  This whole line of reasoning
collapses when the actual range is computed. Since the Proton was in the final
stages of orbital decay (it burned up 36 hours later), it was running far
ahead of its predicted schedule.  Once I had obtained several consecutive
orbital predictions over the final few days, I was able to determine just how
far off the initial NORAD estimates had been:  several hundred miles per day.
The contradiction between range and size vanished.
Overlooked by the same researchers (either they never saw it and were
superficial in their study, or did see it and chose to ignore it) is a visual
descripton of the object given by astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad.  He
describes an object which looks like Proton-3, just as Soviet space program
analysts in Washington D.C. maintain that the NASA photographs show an object
which looks like the Proton satellite. The shape of the Soviet object is known
because models are on exhibit in a museum in Moscom, but UFO researcheres
continue to use an arbitrary and wholly eroneous geometry to "prove" that the
photographs cannot be identified with Proton-3.
If these serious "astronaut UFO reports" are so easily solved (easy only in
the sense of obvious solutions once all the relevant facts hae been
determined, a process which took more insight and effort than anyone had ever
before applied to the problem), what purpose can be served by spending time
with the lesser cases?  My detailed report treats every one of them in
exhaustive precision, but a summary will demonstrate all that can be learned
from them.
On Mercury-7, astronaut Carpenter was photographing a poorly inflated balloon
subsatellite ejected from the capsule in an unsuccessful attempt to get visual
tracking data.  X-15 pilots, like Mercury and Vostok spaceman, were plagued by
"fireflies," flaking paint and frozen droplets of fuel and water floating near
their spacecraft. The Gemini-12 astronauts were the victims, not of a UFO
visit, at the news conference they described how they threw overboard four
bags of equipment and saw them a few orbits later.  Gordon Cooper saw what
he thought was a UFO while he was a fighter pilot in Germany, but in his
latest public appearnce on the UFO record with McDivitt, he never mentioned
his space flight.  The Skylab photos were space debris and a strangely
shaped structure on the surface of the Earth.
It is immediately obvious that the reports of this caliber would not long hold
the attention of the news media.  There must be some driving force behind it
all, some agency which continuously brings "astronaut UFOs" back in the
limelight again and again.  The evidence may be counterfeit as well as
contrived, but it serves to keep the subject in the public mind and to lend
credence to the who UFO phenomenon.
One of the most widely printed astronaut UFO photographs is from the Gemini-7
missions.  It shows two octagonal objects with strange luminous force fields
glowing beneath them as they fly in formation over the clouded Earth hundreds
of miles below.  It has been widely reprinted in UFO magazines.  It has been
widely publicized in travelling slide shows given by serious UFO lecturers.
The photo is a forgery.  An authentic Gemini-7 space photograph which
shows the nose of the spacecraft and sunlight glinting off two roll rockets
thrusters was retouched to make the black spacecraft body fade into the
blackness of the dark Earth background.  The two lights were left mysteriously
hanging in space. The fake was so transparent that a simple inquiry at the
NASA photo archives in Houston would have uncovered the fraud.  I was the
first - and only - person to ask.  I talked with photo analyst Dick Underwood
in building No.8 at the Johnson Space Center (formerly the Manned Spacecraft
Center).  He had viewed every photograph ever brought back from space by
astronauts. I asked him point-blank if he had ever found anything strange.
"There are a lot of things to photograph in space," Underwood pointed out. "We
have photos of insulation fragments, gloves floating out of open hatches, fuel
and urine droplets, boosters and rendezvous targets, flaws in the negative,
dust in the cabin between the lens and the window, and so on.  Nothing has
really stumped me for long."
"So there were no UFOs," I pressed.  "Unfortunately not," chuckled Underwood.
"I'm kind of disappointed not to find something really intersting."
Other visitors to Underwood's office have apparently been far more skeptical
than I.  While researching a film (UFOs Past, Present and Future) billed as a
"documentary," investigator Alan Sandler came to the same office (it is open
to any member of the press, who may order copies of any photograph
ever made by astronauts in space).  He was looking for UFO evidence, or was
looking for evident that NASA was hiding evidence.  One series of photographs
turned out to be very useful.  They were used in the movie and were reprinted
in the book of the same name, authored by Richard Emenegger.  They showed
three lights in a row agains a dark background; Sandler added that NASA "said"
they were Arena tracking lights, with the clear implication that it was an
obvious coverup of a true space mystery.  Tracking lights, indeed, was the
obvious implicit sneer.
"But that's exactly what they were," Underwood told me plaintively.  We stood
together over a lit viewing board in his laboratory, looking at the entire
sequence from which Sandler had selected just two shots. The Agena was
brilliantly lit by the sun, then the Earth darkened beneath it, and finally it
too faded into darkness.  All that was finally visible was a row of tracking
lights.  "I brought this whole sequence to Hollywood to Sandler, but he wasn't
interested in using all of it," Underwood explained.  "Unfortunately, he just
used what he had taken."
Every few years a new report comes out of Berkely, California, that Apollo-12
astronauts were followed on the way to and from the moon. The source is Dr
James Harder, research director of APRO.  He seems to have found the secret
information in an article in Saga magazine. The quotations are indeed
accurate.  Astronatus Conrad, Gordon and Bean were joking about flashing
lights visible in space, lights which quite obviously came from tumbling
fragments of their own booster rocket which was in a nearby trajectory.
Conrad's own words on the matter (he has verified the quotation directly to
me) are direct and to the point:
"They've been after me for years because we were followed by a UFO on the way
to the moon.  That, of course, was untrue.  The guy who came up with it was
going by our transcript where he saw debris from our own rocket and were
joking with the ground crew about it.   He took this out of context.  I
called the ground and said: `Hey, gang, we are being followed, there is some
flashing object out there.' Some scandal sheet took that and made a helluva
story out of it."
Harder's version is that Conrad, and his crewmen, are being forced to lie to
the American people by some secret government agency that can control ex-
astronatus but cannot intimidate college professors. There is a simpler
explanation, and it is that Conrad is telling the truth.  What that implies
about Dr Harder and APRO is something else.
Two of the most respected UFO researchers in the country are Dr J. Allen Hynek
and Dr Jacques Vallee, leading officials of the Center for UFO Studies in
Evanston, Illinois.  In their latest book, The Edge of Reality (Hentry
Regnery, Chicago, 1975), they reveal the quality of their scientific
research by publishing a "Table of UFO Sightings by Astronatus."  Aside from
misspelling, wrong dates, and completely discredited reports, they demonstrate
that they did not even read their own book carefully: Mercury-9 is launched a
year before Mercury-8, Voskhod-2 is launched a year before Voskhod 1, Gemini-4
is launched a year before Gemini-3.  The quality of their accuracy leaves much
to be desired (Hynek disavows any responsibility for this section of the
While UFO devotees claim that astronauts are ordered never to discuss UFO
sightings, they proudly display quotations from astronauts indicating the
possibility that UFOs may be real (astronauts have no special inside
information, and are just as well-informed, or as badly misinformed, as the
average citizen).  Even the quotes can be questionable.
On November 27, 1973, chief astronaut John Young was asked about life in the
universe and he was quoted to the effect that "there are so many stars that
it's mathematically improbable that there aren't other life sources in the
universe."  The AP wire story from Seattle started off with the sentence,
"Astronaut John W. Young says that odds are that unidentified flying objects
exist."  Before you could say "UFO flap," the punctuation in the sentence had
been rearranged.  Vallee gives the quote as follows:  "Odds are that UFOs
exist" - Astronaut John Young.
The pattern of "astronaut UFO sightings" in the news now becomes clear.  The
object seems to be to create enough smoke so that people will suspect that
there is fire somewhere.  Probably the two most original and persistent rumor-
mongers of this type are George Fawcett and Gary Henderson, whose stories are
eagerly reprinted and embellished by writers like Hayden Hewes (of the
"International UFO Bureau"), Major Donald Keyhoe, and Bob Abborino (of the
National Tattler, "the most respected name in people-to-people journalism."
A revealing look into the mentality of such writers was afforded to me by an
exchange of letters with columnist Gregory Kanon of Halifax. His weekly
newspaper feature "The Unknown," mentioned the Gemini-11 case and closed
dramatically with the words, "Not surprisingly, NASA no longer accepts the
satellite explanation.  The file on the case is now marked with one large,
unmistakable word - UNIDENTIFIED.'
When I objected to Kanon's interpretation and presented my own analysis, he
evaded responsibility for the story, claiming that he was just reporting
somebody else's conclusion.  He clearly was also taking no responsibility for
the truth or falsehood of the opinion, preferring instead to pass on another
juicy rumor, suitably dramatized and embellished from his own imagination.
In one local newspaper, my letter to the editor was carried, explaining what
really happened on Gemini-11 and what journalists like Kanon had made of it.
But there were dozens of other papers with hundreds of thousands of readers
for whom Kanon's opinion is the ultimate authority and last word.  It should
be clear by now that the "astronaut UFO" phenomenon is a MANUFACTURED
PHEONOMENON - loosely based on actual events, but essentially created in the
imaginations and fantasies of UFO writers and "researchers."  Not a single
case has the slightest merit.  There is not a shred of evidence - either
photographic, anecdotal, material or otherwise - to demonstrate that any
astronauts has ever seen an object which might suggests that the Earth is
being visited by other spacecraft.
What the evidence overwhelmingly does demonstrate is the lengths to which even
the most respected UFO groups can and will go to prove their point of view. It
there is good evidence elsewhere, why the concentration on misquoting
astronauts, forging photographs, and insinuating coverups?
Why the need to convince the public that UFOs must exist because "even our
astronatus have seen them?"