According to Dan Evans, the assistant deputy associate administrator for research with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, who spoke at the panel:
Unidentified anomalous phenomena has truly captured the attention of the public, of the scientific community and nowadays, the US government as well, and we at NASA strongly believe that it’s our responsibility all working together to investigate these with the scientific scrutiny that NASA is well known for.
We’ve tasked [the team] with helping NASA produce a roadmap, a roadmap that doesn’t necessarily look back at previous grainy footage, sort of acknowledges that many UAPs historically we’ll never be able to get to the bottom because the data are of such poor quality.
“We’re trying to assess whether those phenomena pose any risks to safety and we’re doing it using science,” Evans added. “NASA believes that the tools of science apply to the study [of] UAP because they allow us to separate fact from fiction. And that’s all part of NASA’s commitment to exploring the unknown, and doing so with the openness, transparency and candor that we’re well accustomed to providing the public.”
NASA’s study is independent of the Pentagon’s investigations into UFOs and the team involved is comprised of 16 scientists and experts from across various fields, including astrobiology, data science, oceanography, genetics, policy, and planetary science.
One notable team member is retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, a former fighter pilot, test pilot, and retired US Navy captain.
Meanwhile, the team is led by theoretical astrophysicist David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation in New York City.
Spergel said his team’s role was “not to resolve the nature of these events,” but instead to give NASA a “roadmap” to guide future analysis of the UFO phenomenon.
The consensus among panelists was that a lack of scientifically reliable methods for documenting UFOs is the greatest challenge faced in their study.
This comes largely due to the fact that UFOs are generally being detected and recorded with cameras, sensors, and other equipment not designed or calibrated to accurately observe and measure such phenomena.
“If I were to summarize in one line what I feel we’ve learned, it’s we need high-quality data,” Spergel said. “The current existing data and eyewitness reports alone are insufficient to provide conclusive evidence about the nature and origin of every UAP event.”
Another issue being faced is the societal stigma that still surrounds the subject outside of the Pentagon—which encourages military personnel to report sightings—something which Spergel said has made many commercial pilots “very reluctant to report” UFOs.
This stigma is a significant issue for the NASA panel, which is examining only unclassified reports from civilian observers—an approach that will permit open sharing of information among scientific, commercial, and international entities, as well as the public.
“NASA’s interest in UAP do differ from the Pentagon and from the intelligence community,” Evans said. “We see true benefits to this team working solely on unclassified data. Because when you restrict yourself to those types of data, you can collaborate freely with academia, with industry and with international partners. We need as many eyes on this subject as possible.”
A subject which, the panel admits, is not entirely understood.
“We’ve gone through a data collection stage, which is continued with the hearing today, and I think what we’ve seen is that many events have conventional explanations,” Spergel said. “We saw more of this today and many of these events are commercial aircraft, civilian and military drones, weather and research balloons, military equipment, weather phenomena and ionospheric phenomena. That said, there remain events that we do not understand.”
But those hoping for disclosure of government secrets involving otherworldly beings might not want to get their hopes up in advance of the upcoming report, since, Spergel said, “To make the claim that we see something that is evidence of non-human intelligence would require extraordinary evidence, and we have not seen that.”