Given the strangeness of their surroundings and the vastness of space, it's hardly surprising that astronauts see and report things which are difficult to identify. But even so it's quite amazing the amount of UFO sightings reported by our intrepid explorers.
Some say UFOs in space have been observed since the very early days of space flight, including a supposed sighting captured by John Glenn on Mercury 1
Major Gordon Cooper, the last American to ever launch into space on a solo mission and a Mercury astronaut, is often cited as the first person in space to spot a UFO. However he always denied this was the case, and given that he was actually a very vocal believer in UFOs and claimed to have seen them when in the US Air Force I tend to think we can trust him on that. Why would he lie?
So that leads me on to a later mission instead as our first really significant sighting. Gemini 4 was launched in June 1965 crewed by James McDivitt and Edward White. They videoed and photographed a moving object which some claim is a UFO.
Others however have been somewhat less enthusiastic about it with McDivitt and White being particular uninspired regarding the events (sadly White passed away not long afterwards during the Apollo 1 disaster).
Not long after this mission, Gemini 7 was launched. It has spawned several stories of UFO encounters in space. Here's a transcript from just after the launch.
"Spacecraft: Gemini-7 here. Houston, how do you read?
Capcom: Loud and clear, Seven, go ahead.
Spacecraft: Bogey at 10 o'clock high.
Capcom: This is Houston. Say again, seven.
Spacecraft: Said we have a bogey at 10 o'clock high.
Capcom: Roger, Gemini 7, is that the booster or is that an actual sighting? Spacecraft: We have several, looks like debris up here. Actual sighting.
Capcom: You have any more information? Estimate distance and speed? Spacecraft: We also have the booster in sight.
Capcom: Understand you also have the booster in sight. Roger.
Spacecraft: Yeah, have a very, very many -- look like hundreds of little particles banked on the left out about 3 to 4 miles.
Capcom: Understand you have many small particles going by on the left. At what distance?
Spacecraft: Oh, about -- it looks like a path to the vehicle at 90 degrees.
Capcom: Roger, understand they are about 3 or 4 miles away.
Spacecraft: They are passed now -- they were in polar orbit.
Capcom: Roger, understand they are about 3 or 4 miles away.
Spacecraft: That's what it appeared like. That's roger.
Capcom: Were these particles in addition to the booster and the bogey at 10 o'clock?
Spacecraft (Lovell): I have the booster on MY side, it's a brilliant body in the sun, against a black background with trillions of particles on it.
Capcom: Roger. What direction is it from you?
Spacecraft (Lovell): It's about at my 2 o'clock position.
Capcom: Does that mean it's ahead of you?"
Spacecraft:. It's ahead of us at 2 o'clock, slowly tumbling."
Sounds interesting? Sadly it's not quite as interesting as it first appears. Gemini 7 was a very early mission and space flight was still a relative unknown. This phenomena is now widely accepted as being related to booster separation. See here for more interesting facts on Gemini 7 and an explanation of why this was not first contact.
Gemini 11 was the next to "make contact".
FROM THE TRANSCRIPT OF GEMINI-11, TAPE 133., PAGE 1 (SEPTEMBER 13, 1966):
"WE HAD A WINGMAN FLYING WING ON US GOING INTO SUNSET HERE OFF TO MY LEFT. A
LARGE OBJECT THAT WAS TUMBLING AT ABOUT 1 REV. PER SECOND, AND WE FLEW . . .
WE HAD HIM IN SIGHT, I SAY FAIRLY CLOSE TO US. I DON'T KNOW. IT COULD DEPEND
ON HOW BIG HE IS AND I GUESS HE COULD HAVE BEEN ANYTHING FROM OUR ELSS* TO
SOMETHING ELSE. WE TOOK PICTURES OF IT."
*ELSS - EXTRAVEHICULAR LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM Source
Alas, yet again this seems to be nothing more than a misidentification.
NORAD IDENTIFICATION OF THE SIGHTING FROM TRANSCRIPT, TAPE 209, PAGE 2
(SEPTEMBER 14, 1966):
"WE HAVE A REPORT ON THE OBJECT SIGHTED BY PETE CONRAD OVER TANANARIVE
YESTERDAY ON THE 18TH REVOLUTION.** IT HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED BY NORAD AS THE
PROTON 3 SATELLITE. SINCE PROTON 3 WAS MORE THAN 450 KM FROM GEMINI 11 IT IS
UNLIKELY THAT ANY PHOTOGRAPHS WOULD SHOW MORE THAN A POINT OF LIGHT."
**THE OFFICIAL 70 mm PHOTOGRAPHY IDENTIFICATION SHEET LISTS THIS AS
OCCURRING ON THE 16TH REVOLUTION.
There are rumours that during the Apollo 11 moon landing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spotted either ships or "installations" on the surface but as no actual evidence has ever come to light on this one we'll move quickly on.
UFOs weren't merely seen by American astronauts but by their Russian cosmonaut colleagues as well:
In April 1979, Russian cosmonaut Victor Afanasyev sighted an alien craft whilst in space, he states:" I think we are not alone, something of extraterrestrial origin has visited Earth. The alien craft turned towards ours, followed us and flew formation 25 to 29 metres away. We photographed the metallic engineering structure that was 40 metres long. The film was later confiscated." Victor did in fact make a drawing of the object
Gennadij Strekhalov, another cosmonaut - MIR Space Station, relates:
"On the last two flights I saw something. During the flight of 1990, I called Gennadij Manakov, our commander to come to the porthole - but we did not manage to put a film in the camera quickly enough. We looked on Newfoundland and the atmosphere was absolutely clear - suddenly a kind of sphere appeared. Beautiful, shiny and glittering - I saw it for 10 seconds - it disappeared. What was it, what size it had? I don't know, there was nothing I could compare with - it was a perfect sphere. I reported to the Mission Control Center, but I did not say I have seen a UFO - I said I saw a kind of unusual phenomenon. I had to be careful with the choice of my words - I don't want someone to speculate too much or quote me wrong".
During docking with the Russian Mir space station astronaut Musa Manarov filmed an anomalous object, he stated: "At some point during the filming I caught sight of something I thought had separated from the ship… however, it was not very close, I know this because the camera was focused on infinity. Nothing could have broken away. There were no alarms were going off. Later there were arguments over what possibly it could have been". Source
Of course there are multiple sightings coming from the NASA Space Shuttle program
From STS 48
From STS 63
From STS 114
From STS 115
There's plenty more like this on Youtube. Personally, as a lay person, I think these sightings could easily be put down to debris (moving that fast I hear some scream, yes things really do move that fast in space) and other phenomena. But then again, what do I know? Either way I feel like watching more Shuttle videos as they are fantastic. The STS 48 one, showing the thunderstorms is particularly wonderful!!
Check out the following documentary (part one of 12, see more on Youtube) for many, many more examples of this very interesting part of ufological study. Plus this webpage is pretty informative.
Ufo's and Outer Space Mysteries: A Sympathetic Skeptic's Report - James Oberg (UK Amazon, US Amazon)
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