when astronauts become ufologists

If you can trust anyone to point out a genuine UFO, it's an astronaut. Sadly, they might be just as misinformed or probe to personal biases as the rest of us.

ufo tractor beam

Until space travel is something the majority of humans does, there won’t be a more awesome job than being an astronaut. They’re the ultimate explorers venturing outside the comfort of the atmosphere where all life on our world evolved. So when astronauts want to tell you that they know aliens exist and UFOs are in fact visitors from other planets, there’s at least some tendency to give them extra credence. After all, they’ve been where a handful of others have and seen things only few others have seen, so surely, astronauts should be the authorities on the plausibility of alien encounters. But for all of their achievements, they are still human and prone to typical human biases.

Few astronauts are actually outspoken that they believe we’re being actively visited by aliens and the most noteworthy of them was Edgar Mitchell. He not only believed that some 90% of UFO encounters were with otherworldly beings, but that there was a massive coverup to keep this knowledge away from public eyes. Problem was that he never actually had any proof of this, only repetition of accounts from people who saw something strange, did not know what they saw, saw it at a time when the government was testing top secret fighter jet, spy plane, and bomber prototypes, and obviously didn’t get any answers when they started asking questions. And while it may be proof of Cold War coverups, there’s nothing alien about them.

And while Mitchell was pretty well known for his UFO beliefs to skeptics, his fellow Apollo astronaut Al Worden’s interest in the ancient astronaut theory hasn’t been mentioned much, but he opened up about it in an interview he gave on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 15th flight. It would be very tempting to tell you that his arguments were new or profound, but sadly, they’re not even the greatest hits remix. They’re standard issue Giorgio Tsoukalos quips indirectly credited to Chariots of the Gods, the book that launched the craze that ate the History Channel we all know and used to love. For example…

If we’re going to develop a capability to go somewhere else, don’t tell me that a million years ago there wasn’t another species like ours that had the same problem; they needed to go somewhere, and they found that Earth was a great place to live, and they sent people here.

That other species he’s talking about is probably the Annunaki, who ancient astronaut theorists claim genetically engineered our species to be what it is today and have come up with elaborate theories on how they could’ve done it and what evidence they left behind. Unfortunately that evidence is in the eye of the beholder and more often than not comes from a cursory glance at biological and archeological anomalies with the predetermined conclusion that it was all aliens. So while I can’t tell Worden that there’s no way that a civilization on a distant world couldn’t have evolved and traveled into space because there’s no scientific reason why that’s not possible, I can say that we need more proof for this happening than simple plausibility.

Just because something can happen, doesn’t mean it did, especially when we consider how difficult and rare it would be for a space-faring alien species to evolve in the first place, and how unlikely the timespan of their existence to overlap with ours over billions of years that have passed so far, and all the hundreds of billions of years left before the heat death of the universe. With this approach, I could claim that because I live in LA and have bumped into celebrities before, a few months ago I had a threesome with Kate Beckinsale and Jennifer Lawrence. Nothing in physics or biology could prevent this but I’m going to bet that without proof, you’ll dismiss my claim, as you should, because of course that never happened.

But Worden, not content with substituting theoretical scientific plausibility for concrete evidence, immediately doubled down with a textbook swing at scientists and appeals to a Biblical passage often cited by ancient astronaut enthusiasts as proof that we’ve been visited openly in the past…

Most “conservative” scientists that are around today don’t like to think about somebody coming from somewhere else and starting our civilization. But many of our ancient religious texts from totally different cultures describe exactly that. Just go and read Ezekiel. Ezekiel’s wheel came down from the sky and landed. There was a NASA engineer named Josef Blumrich at Huntsville who did an analysis of Ezekiel, and he came to the conclusion that the object that Ezekiel saw was very much like our lunar module.

Blumrich is an interesting character to bring up because he wrote a book called The Spaceship of Ezekiel after supposedly venturing to disprove von Däniken’s book. He ardently defends that he legitimately believes what he wrote and that the Bible describes a spaceship, and there’s no reason for us to doubt his sincerity. But there’s an obvious problem in using ancient texts as records of actual events. It presumes that our ancestors had absolutely no imagination and simply recorded whatever was in front of them like robots, while we all know they wrote libraries of fictional works and metaphysical treatises that were never meant to be taken at face value. To say that you’re going to have a skeptical look at a Biblical story while asking no questions about the source or its intended meaning is hardly good scholarship.

For all their authority when it comes to space travel, astronauts’ claims that aliens are out there, flying fleets of UFOs around Earth and have been since the dawn of human civilization require the same scrutiny as anyone else’s. And as soon as we shine a skeptical light on what they say, neither Mitchell or Worden offer any proof of extraterrestrial life or alien visitation. We saw the same thing with Air Force officers publicly declaring that UFOs wanted us to shelve our nukes are are monitoring our doomsday arsenals; big and splashy claims from people seemingly in position of extraordinary authority to make them backed with little than puffery and “what ifs.” So next time a respected, highly credible-sounding figure makes extraordinary claims, don’t forget to ask for the required extraordinary proof…

# astrobiology // astronauts / skepticism / space exploration


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