Scott Kelly, the U.S. astronaut who took part in the year-long – it was actually 340 days – mission on the International Space Station (ISS) has spent over 520 days in space during his four off-planet missions. Kelly says he has seen some weird things, but he doesn’t think any of them were aliens.
According to the New York Times, the Department of Defense has a project that looks into military UFO sightings. The story made worldwide headlines last December. Luis Elizondo, who ran the project, says some of the cases they examined are genuinely mysterious and remain unidentified, as in Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). During our exclusive interview with Kelly at the 3M science advocacy event, we asked the former fighter pilot for the U.S. Navy and retired astronaut if he felt this was a viable area of study.
“Flying in airplanes and flying in space, you know, I have had experiences where if I let my imagination run wild. I could say, ‘Wow. That’s an alien spaceship,’” Kelly explains. “Even on the space station. I mean, I would often see something, and I would be like, ‘That’s not behaving like a star or a satellite.’”
Kelly says he also experienced this when flying jets, especially over the water at night. But, they always turned out to be optical illusions.
“I personally don’t think that alien spacecraft visit the earth. I don’t have any evidence of that, but I personally think that for a few reasons,” Kelly says. “One, distances are pretty significant and if they did visit, why did they sort of stop as soon as everyone got a cellphone in their pocket? You would think there would be pictures of selfies with aliens now.”
He says it seems like in the ‘50s, and ‘60s people were allegedly getting photos of them, but not so much in the age of cell phones.
“I am not saying with 100 percent certainty, but 99.99 percent that I don’t think we have visitors,” Kelly concludes.
Although the term UFOs is associated with aliens, it was coined by the U.S. Air Force to represent just what the acronym stands for, unidentified flying objects, meaning that UFOs being extraterrestrial is not a foregone conclusion. Elizondo has stated that he does not like to assume the objects they have investigated are alien. There could be other answers.
During the interview with Kelly, we asked if he felt some of what people refer to as UFOs could be secret advanced aircraft from other countries. Kelly interjected, “or our own.” He then donned a wry smile, and that was the end of that. We changed topics.
Den of Geek were not the only ones discussing aliens with Kelly that day. A couple of hours after our interview, he participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) forum. A Reddit user by the name buttholebungalo attempted to broach the subject by asking, “Aliens?” He did not receive a response.
User nanniej asked, “How has your space experience changed your outlook/beliefs in life?”
Kelly replied, “Having a good understanding of the size of the universe, I find it hard to believe there’s not life out there. Having said that, I don’t think the aliens stopped visiting Earth once everyone got a camera in their pocket.”
Another user, color-blind-nerd, asked a long question about the Fermi Paradox and philosophical ideas about how aliens may view us. Kelly’s response was short. He wrote, “I think it’s likely there is intelligent life in the universe. Although I’m not a big believer in the idea aliens have visited Earth.”
While Kelly’s answers are not surprising, there have been astronauts who have seen UFOs and even those who believe aliens are visiting us. To my knowledge, there are no current or former astronauts who think the world is flat. Perhaps a bit naively, Kelly seems to doubt anyone really does.
This topic came up earlier in the day during a panel about a science survey 3M recently conducted called the 3M State of Science Index. During the Q and A, someone in the audience asked about the dangers fringe beliefs pose to science, such as the theory that the Earth is flat. Kelly was not afraid to have some fun with this.
“The ‘flat-earthers’ are not the real danger,” Kelly says. “They come to my talks sometimes, and I like them because I think it is kind of funny. The real danger is we have people in the government that are not science people. That is where the danger lies. I love the ‘flat-earthers.’ It is fun for me.”
Later that day, Reddit users also asked Kelly about his thoughts on the flat earth theory. Reddit user reddit7979 asked, “Settle the debate… is the earth flat or not?”
Kelly responded, “Not. I flew A-ROUND it. And if it was flat, wouldn’t the edge be the most popular vacation destination?”
Reddit user itsdevindood asked, “Does it offend you that people believe the Earth is flat or do you understand their point of view?”
“I think a lot of those flat-earthers don’t believe the earth is flat,” Kelly replied. “The risk is when you discount something that is clearly fact, it causes people to question other scientific facts, and that can be dangerous.”
Kelly makes an important point regarding the dangers posed by disregarding scientific fact, and hopefully, he is right about the “flat-earthers.” Many of them seem convinced, and nothing seems to dissuade them from their odd beliefs.
As for aliens, who knows whether they are sneaking around our skies and peeking in on us. If we found an intelligent species on another planet, we would probably try to spy on them without their knowledge. Personally, I hold out hope that if they are here, one day I will be able to zip around the solar system in one of their spacecraft.