To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of Project Blue Book, there is a special featured document display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from December 5, 2019, through January 20, 2020. Today’s post comes from Michael Steffen from the National Archives History Office.
The idea of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) have captured the American imagination. From movies such as E.T. to Arrival, UFOs have often been associated with aliens and the confirmation that there is life beyond planet Earth. But is that connection accurate? How did it originate? What is the government’s role in keeping track of UFOs? The answer to all these questions can be found within the history of Project Blue Book.
The Air Force’s interest in tracking UFOs emerged due to increasing Cold War tensions during the late 1940s and 1950s and the Roswell incident of 1947. During this time period, Federal officials as well as ordinary citizens reported seeing objects flying through the sky.
Fearful that the objects might be secret weapons by the Soviet Union and to quell public mass hysteria surrounding the possibility of encountering extraterrestrial life, the Federal Government established Project Blue Book in 1952 to collect and evaluate UFO data. Project Blue Book was actually the third in a series of studies on UFOs conducted by the Air Force, preceded by Project Sign (1947–49) and Project Grudge (1949–52).
The primary purpose of Project Blue Book was to keep track of reports of UFO sightings. Although officials most often were confident that the objects were simply known objects they could not 100-percent identify, they did not rule out the possibility of extraterrestrial phenomena. This omission led some members of the public to believe UFOs were signs of extraterrestrial life. As a result, civilians made tens of thousands of reports to Project Blue Book personnel claiming to have seen a UFO.
When civilians reported UFO sightings to the Air Force, they were given a packet to complete, asking them questions about what they saw. People were asked to record information such as where they were when they saw the object, how the object moved across the sky, and what the object sounded like. They were even given space to draw a picture of the object as best they could.
Upon further inspection, the majority of these reports turned out to be misidentified flying objects, such as a weather balloon or an aircraft. Although they did not rule out the possibility of extraterrestrial life, Federal officials accepted these reports mainly to investigate potential threats to American lives. As Cold War tensions were high, the U.S. took defense very seriously and wanted to stave off paranoia that the Soviet Union could launch an unknown air attack. UFO sightings were often followed up and thoroughly investigated.
In 1968, the University of Colorado UFO Project, better known as the Condon Committee, released a report claiming that very little of substance had come from the Air Force’s study of UFOs. The committee argued that continued study of UFO sightings was unwarranted and called for Project Blue Book to be discontinued. The Air Force issued a termination order for the study in December 1969, and all activity officially ceased in January 1970.
Despite the beliefs of some conspiracy theorists, Project Blue Book did not confirm the existence of extraterrestrial life. Reports submitted to and discovered by the Air Force concluded that there has been no evidence discovered thus far that represents technology beyond the range of modern science, nor has there been evidence indicating the existence of UFOs as extraterrestrial vehicles.
Watch our new video about Project Blue Book:
And learn more about Project Blue Book and its role in the history of the Air Force: