NASA on Thursday said it has named a new director of research into what the government calls "unidentified anomalous phenomenon," or UAP, while the US space agency's chief said an expert panel that urged deeper fact-finding on the matter found no evidence of an extraterrestrial origin for these objects.
Administrator Bill Nelson made the announcement about the new research chief - without disclosing the person's identity - after the independent panel of experts recommended in a new report that NASA increase its efforts to gather information on UAP and play a larger role in helping the Pentagon detect them.
UAP are better known to the public as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.
Nelson during a news conference also gave his personal opinion that life exists beyond Earth.
"There's a global fascination with UAP. On my travels, one of the first questions I often get is about these sightings. And much of that fascination is due to the unknown nature of it," Nelson said.
"If you ask me do I believe there's life in a universe that's so vast that it's hard for me to comprehend how big it is, my personal answer is, 'Yes,'" Nelson added.
But Nelson said the chances that otherworldly beings have visited Earth are low.
The NASA panel, comprising experts in fields ranging from physics to astrobiology, was formed last year and held its first public meeting in June.
"The NASA independent study team did not find any evidence that UAP have an extraterrestrial origin, but we don't know what these UAP are," Nelson said, adding that a goal of the agency is to "shift the conversation about UAP from sensationalism to science."
The US government in the past few years has made several disclosures of information it has gathered regarding a subject that once was met by virtual official silence. It issued a watershed report in 2021 compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in conjunction with a Navy-led task force encompassing numerous observations - mostly from military personnel - of UAP.
"The mission of NASA is to find out the unknown," Nelson said.
"Whatever we find, we're going to tell you," Nelson added, promising transparency on any discoveries.
The new UAP research director will handle "centralized communications, resources and data analytical capabilities to establish a robust database for the evaluation of future UAP," NASA said.
Nelson told Reuters he does not know the name of the new director. Dan Evans, a senior research official in NASA's science unit and a member of the study team, said harassment that other panel members had received from the public during their work was "in part" why the new director's identity was being kept secret.
'A VITAL ROLE'
"NASA has a variety of existing and planned Earth- and space-observing assets, together with an extensive archive of historic and current data sets, which should be directly leveraged to understand UAP," the panel's report said.
"Although NASA's fleet of Earth-observing satellites typically lack the spatial resolution to detect relatively small objects such as UAP, their state-of-the-art sensors can be directly utilized to probe the state of the local earth, oceanic and atmospheric conditions that are spatially and temporally coincident with UAPs initially detected via other methods," the report said.
NASA's science chief Nicky Fox declined to say how much funding the agency would like to allocate toward the continued UAP-tracking effort.
The 2021 government report included some UAP cases that previously came to light in the Pentagon's release of video from naval aviators showing enigmatic aircraft off the US East and West Coasts exhibiting speed and maneuverability exceeding known aviation technologies and lacking any visible means of propulsion or flight-control surfaces.
That report said defense and intelligence analysts lacked sufficient data to determine the nature of some of the objects, while some could possibly be explained as atmospheric phenomena, advanced aircraft from another country or innocuous objects such as weather balloons.
The new report called UAP "one of our planet's greatest mysteries."
"Observations of objects in our skies that cannot be identified as balloons, aircraft or natural known phenomena have been spotted worldwide, yet there are limited high-quality observations. The nature of science is to explore the unknown, and data is the language scientists use to discover our universe's secrets," the report stated.
"Despite numerous accounts and visuals, the absence of consistent, detailed and curated observations means we do not presently have the body of data needed to make definitive, scientific conclusions about UAP," it added.