Having always had an interest in space and astronomy, I watched today’s launch of the Soyuz space capsule with particular interest.  In case you missed it, the craft contained the first official British astronaut, Tim Peake, along with Russian Yuri Malenchenko and American Tim Kopra.  The launch took place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same location that Yuri Gagarin departed on his trip to be the first human being into space back in 1961.

Watching the impressive take-off of the craft (though I still love the American Space Shuttles best), I couldn’t help wondering if Tim Peake or his crew mates will spot anything ‘unusual’ during their six months’ mission to the International Space Station.  Of course, even if they do, I doubt we will hear about it any time soon.  Unless he or his crew mates choose to become one of the few astronauts who have spoken about their encountered with the unknown in space.

Early encounters

Gemini 4 launching

Gemini 4 launching

As early as the second manned space flight operated by NASA, there were stories about astronauts spotting strange and unidentified objects.  Gemini 4 pilot Jim McDivitt reported seeing an object described as a ‘white cylindrical shape’ that he added had a white pole sticking out of one corner during their four-day mission in 1965.  He took two pictures of the object that he alone saw, his partner Ed White being asleep at the time.  Explanations include a Titan 11 second stage craft or other space debris.

Also blamed on debris was the report of a ‘bogey’ that the Gemini 7 mission later the same year.  The astronaut who made the report was Frank Borman and he later said he had not seen anything unidentified but simply some debris associated with the booster rockets used to get the craft into orbit.  It seems passingly curious that he would refer to a familiar piece of equipment as a bogey but who knows?

Big names

800px-Aldrin_Apollo_11_originalWhen you talk about astronauts, the name everyone knows is Neil Armstrong, closely followed by Edwin Buzz Aldrin.  According to a number of sources, both of these men reported UFO sightings while visiting the Moon in their ground-breaking mission Apollo 11 in 1969.

In fact, according to a number of sites, the pair not only saw unexplained craft while on the Moon but actually had an encounter with an extra-terrestrial who effectively ‘warned them off’ visiting the moon.  This was because this race was already using it as a base of operations, presumably to monitor the Earth.  While this sounds far-fetched, it is interesting to note that within three years of this even, humankind had stopped visiting the Moon completely.

Santa Claus

According to the former chief of NASA Communications System, Maurice Chatelain, astronauts even used a special code name to indicate when they saw UFOs.  Mercury 8’s Walter Schirra was credited within NASA with coming up with the code name of ‘Santa Claus’ to indicate when they had seen a UFO.  This was brought home when James Lovell on Apollo 8 loudly declared ‘Please be informed there is a Santa Claus’ while on general broadcast.  Most people assumed this was because it was Christmas Day but Chatelain makes a different explanation.

Another prominent figure in the programme, Scott Carpenter, also said that the astronauts were aware that at all times during their missions, they were under observation from UFOs.  Carpenter was the second American to orbit the planet after John Glenn and the fourth American in space.

Recent cases

The International Space Station

The International Space Station

Despite the dramatic change in focus and interest in space exploration in recent decades, there are still regular trips into the space around the planet and also continued reports of strange craft observing these missions.

In 1989, a radio operator called Donald Ratsch claimed to have intercepted a conversation between the crew of the shuttle Discovery and mission control that seemed to indicate they were having a UFO encounter.  The conversation spokes of a ‘fire’ and then there was the phrase ‘we still have the alien spacecraft under observation’.  During the mission, it was claimed that the shuttle was rendered inoperative by a complete loss of power for a few minutes.  NASA denied the report and attributed the broadcasts to a hoax.

In 2005, astronaut Leroy Chiao reported a light formation that he said looked almost like an ‘upside down check mark’ while he was conducting a spacewalk outside the International Space Station.  When the report surfaced, the astronaut said he had actually seen the lights from fishing boats hundreds of miles below his position.

As recently as August 2013, Christopher Cassidy saw a UFO float past the ISS while he was on board.  The explanation given for this sighting was that he had mis-identified the antenna cover of the Zvezda service module.

Conclusion

Of the many people to report UFO sightings, astronauts have to rank highly in terms of their credibility.  Unfortunately, they also seem to have a terrible habit of misidentifying pieces of their own spacecraft or other debris that is in the area.  So unless one of them wants to tell us what ‘Santa Claus’ really refers to, we are left with other sources for information.