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SKEPTOID BLOG:

James Oberg: Astronaut UFO Incidents

by Mike Weaver

December 10, 2014

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Donate Sometimes when looking for a topic, I end up going on wild tangents, chasing one thought or another and satisfying my own curiosity. I try to keep my ear to the ground for interesting or unusual UFO reports that might be worth blogging about. In reading an article about an ISS crew member getting questions about UFOs, I found a reference to James Oberg.

James, or Jim, Oberg has a long history with NASA and with news organizations. His website's profile page lists his work history, or you can get a more concise summary on Wikipedia and the RationalWiki. In short, he has a BA in mathematics, an MS in applied mathematics (astrodynamics, specifically) and an MS in computer science. He served in the US Air Force, then was a NASA contract engineer from 1975 until 1997. He is also a journalist and author, working as a consultant to major news networks and publishing quite a few books. Oh, and he speaks English, French, and Russian and is one of the foremost authorities on the Soviet space program. Cool guy.

I wish I had learned about him and his work. While its all very impressive, I wanted to highlight one portion that I found especially fascinating.

Some time ago, Oberg became fascinated by the folklore and myths that grew up around astronauts and the space program, with specific emphasis on the UFO stories. On his site are dozens of investigations and discussions of major and minor UFO stories and events surrounding the space program.

I lost entirely too much time reading the stories and reports, and intend to lose more. I'll highlight one paper that I particularly enjoyed: "Strange Shuttle Sights: Unearthly and Mundane." In this paper, which was published to the web site Space.Com in December 1999, he describes a number of phenomena one might see from the windows of one of the space shuttle orbiters. From the paper:
In outer space, even "ordinary" things seem so alien that Earthlings back home can get their minds blown by what veteran space voyagers find routine and boring. So we have to acquire a thorough knowledge of what is ordinary—in terms of space flight—so that the genuinely extraordinary can be filtered out.
One sight common in UFO videos is easily and simply explained by Oberg. Further along in the essay he writes:
People back on Earth must remember that the first principle of space travel is that objects coming off a vehicle tend to fly along with it. They appear to move in straight lines unless they encounter some force, such as the atmosphere or an exhaust plume from a rocket thruster. They don't need propulsion or power sources, just natural inertia.

The second poorly-appreciated principle of space travel is that things are always coming off—or out of—a piloted space vehicle.
Spacecraft are always shedding things, from themselves or from their delivery vehicles, and those things are going to most likely hang out around the craft. They might look weird. They might seem to act oddly in the video feed. Sometimes, lacking a good sense of scale and distance, a small and close piece of debris might appear to be a distant, impossibly quick, monstrously large space craft. The difference is one of perspective. In many UFO hunting videos such debris is often mistaken for orbiting intelligence, without regard to the scale of the stuff, which is often quite small.

It's important that we not get caught up in flights of fancy over some perceived oddity in a video, film, or photograph from space. Having a good understanding of what is normal and expected allows us to better recognize the extraordinary when it makes an appearance.

I'd encourage you to read Jim Oberg's writing and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Be well.

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by Mike Weaver

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