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The existence of UFOs would be nice, but the evidence is lacking

Ben Bova, Naples Daily News, Oct. 13, 2002

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: Because I write science fiction, many people think I "believe" in UFOs. I do, in a way. I believe that there are many unidentified objects flying through our skies. I do not believe, however, that there is one scintilla of evidence showing that UFOs are the spacecraft of visiting extraterrestrial creatures.

Because I write science fiction, many people think I "believe" in UFOs.

I do, in a way. I believe that there are many unidentified objects flying through our skies. I do not believe, however, that there is one scintilla of evidence showing that UFOs are the spacecraft of visiting extraterrestrial creatures.

Most UFO sightings turn out to be perfectly natural objects: jet planes, falling stars, balloons and such. After nearly half a century of following UFO reports and investigations, I think that the UFOs that haven't been explained are most likely natural objects, too.

But the UFO "faithful" believe that we are being visited by aliens, and the government is covering up the fact. Why the government would try to cover up alien visitors is something I don't understand. How a government that leaks like a sieve could possibly cover up such a story for nearly half a century is beyond my comprehension.

Remember Watergate? The federal government, for all its power and the paranoia of the Nixon White House, couldn't keep a third-rate burglary secret for very long.

But the UFO faithful believe there's an ongoing cover-up. And they are right, in at least one case. There was a government cover-up in the most famous UFO report of them all: the crashed "flying saucer" and alien crew members that were found at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The cover-up lasted nearly 50 years, but when it was at last revealed most UFOlogists were bitterly disappointed.

In July 1947, just outside of Roswell, after a severe thunderstorm the night before, rancher William W. "Mack" Brazel found in the desert wreckage of a crashed aircraft of a type none of the local residents could identify. Even military officers from nearby Roswell Army Air Field seemed stumped. Soldiers collected the wreckage and within a day or two it was flown to Wright Field, in Dayton, Ohio, a major facility that included several government laboratories.

A few days after the wreckage was picked up by the Army, public relations officer Lt. Walter G. Haut issued a news release that referred to the wreckage as "a disk." Over the following days, the story grew: The "disk" was definitely a flying saucer. Three alien crewmen had been recovered, two of them dead and the third badly injured. They had all been bundled off by the Army in great secrecy.

Shortly after Haut's report of finding a "disk," the Army issued another news release claiming that the wreckage was nothing more than a weather balloon. Cover-up! charged the UFO faithful, and for nearly half a century Roswell has stood as the classic example of the government hiding "the truth" about flying saucers.

Then, in 1994, the government finally admitted that there had indeed been a conspiracy to hide the truth about the Roswell wreckage. It wasn't a weather balloon. But it wasn't an alien spacecraft, either.

In 1947, the Army was testing a series of very-high-altitude balloons that were equipped with electronics and listening devices to "eavesdrop" on possible Russian nuclear bomb tests. The Roswell wreckage was of one of those balloon sets with its seemingly strange equipment. The Army wanted to keep the program secret, hence the cover story about a weather balloon.

Karl T. Pflock, who describes himself as a "pro-UFOlogist," investigated the Roswell incident over many years, at first as a believer in the alien flying saucer story. But the deeper he probed, he says, the more the story unraveled. There were no alien crew members, alive or dead. Much to his personal disappointment, Pflock came to the conclusion that the Roswell UFO never existed, although a Pentagon cover-up certainly did, for nearly half a century.

When I was the editor of Omni magazine, we worked hard to track down UFO stories. They always somehow vanished into smoke and air. One day a gentleman came into my office bearing a sliver of metal which, he claimed, had been scraped from the hull of a flying saucer. "It's unlike any metal on Earth," he kept repeating.

It struck me, and the rest of the editorial staff, that it might be pretty difficult to scratch off a sliver of such a metal. We suggested that we take it to a reputable metallurgy laboratory for analysis. The visitor was very reluctant to do so. At last, after several hours, we persuaded him to go to Boston with one of our editors and have the sample analyzed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He agreed only after we promised to pay all the expenses for the trip.

MIT reported that the metal was ordinary aluminum, the stuff of cooking pots and skillets. It may have come from the hull of a flying saucer; aluminum is a good structural metal for flying vehicles. But it certainly was not "unlike any metal on Earth." I believe that life exists beyond Earth. I believe that intelligent life must exist somewhere in the vast universe of stars and galaxies. I recognize that there is, as yet, no evidence to support this belief of mine.

Precisely because I am a "believer," in this sense, I remain guardedly skeptical about claims of UFOs and alien abductions. It is all too easy to fall for unsupported stories that tell us what we want to believe. I would like to see some scrap of hard, palpable evidence; maybe as much as a person would take to traffic court to prove he wasn't illegally parked when he got a ticket.

During the American Civil War, when reports from the battlefields were often unreliable, many newspapers used a headline that warned their readers that the story they were about to read might not be accurate. The headline was "Good News, If True." That is how I feel about UFO reports. It would be wonderful to know that we are being visited by intelligent aliens. But I doubt that it's true.

Naples resident Ben Bova's futuristic "Grand Tour" novels deal with humans exploring the solar system. He gives commentary over WGCU-FM every Tuesday morning. Dr. Bova's web site address is www.benbova.net.

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