Editorial: As we await the US government’s UFO report, a reminder to keep reaching – Houston Chronicle

Until now, the best-known UFO-related publication may be a fictional tome entitled “To Serve Man,” featured in a classic “Twilight Zone” episode that still thrills viewing audiences in reruns and “Twilight Zone” marathons. As “Twilight Zone” fans can tell you, authors of the book are the Kanamits, a race of 9-foot-tall aliens of vastly superior intelligence. When they arrive on Earth, these extraterrestrial giants present their book to the United Nations and immediately begin solving all of humankind’s problems.

It’s only after humans are enthusiastically boarding spacecraft for excursions to the Kanamits’ home planet in a galaxy far away that cryptographers decipher the contents of their book. Spoiler alert for the dozen or so TV viewers who haven’t seen the episode since it first aired in 1962, or listened to the El-P song built around it: “To Serve Man” is a cookbook.

Sometime this month, maybe in the next few days, the federal government will release a report that may displace “To Serve Man” in the public consciousness. The purpose of the comprehensive report is to disclose what the government knows — and doesn’t know — about flying objects that not only are unidentified but seemingly inexplicable. The report apparently addresses more than 120 UFO incidents over the past two decades. Many will be disappointed if, as early reporting by The New York Times states, the report contains no definitive proof that aerial phenomenon observed by U.S. military pilots in recent years has otherworldly origins.

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Meanwhile, we can say with some assurance that the report will not address Kanamit-like visitations. That’s too bad in a way, since the arrival of actual aliens planning a farm-to-table future for us might be the singular event that unites quarrelsome humankind.

It’s tempting to snicker about Roswell (and Aurora, Texas, by the way), about alien abductions and other reported contacts with nonhuman intelligence, and yet numerous sightings like those featured on a recent “Sixty Minutes” report can’t be laughed away. What are we to make of giant Tic Tacs that Navy pilots observed bobbing and careening across the sky like hyperactive pinballs, sometimes plunging into the ocean and back out?

What about the UFO — they’re now called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena — that resembled a spinning top moving against the wind and in 2014 and 2015 appearing almost daily in the skies above the East Coast? As the New York Times reported recently, Navy pilots told their superiors that the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes but could reach 30,000 feet at hypersonic speeds. One nearly collided with a Navy Super Hornet.

John Ratcliffe, the former Texas congressman who briefly served as director of national intelligence in the last months of the Trump administration, indicated he takes the forthcoming government report seriously.

“When we talk about sightings,” he told Fox News recently, “we are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for, or traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.”

Former CIA director John Brennan also takes the sightings seriously. They might be “some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don’t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life,” he said in a recent interview.

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Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader from Nevada, has written that he got interested in unidentified aerial phenomena, in part through conversations with the late John Glenn, the pioneering astronaut and U.S. senator. Reid has come to believe that the military has information the public deserves to know, and in 2007 he persuaded Congress to establish the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program Task Force.

It’s highly unlikely the information we need to know is about hungry alien intruders; it more likely concerns advanced technology perfected by our fellow humans — Russians, perhaps, or Chinese. Maybe they’re some sort of hypersonic stealth drones our scientists either don’t understand or our military hasn’t told us about — though the report is said to state definitively that the phenomena were not caused by U.S. military aircraft.

Whatever they are, if they are terrestrial, their existence leaves us dangerously far behind.

Maybe we’re bored with the mundane, but there’s something vaguely disappointing about earthly explanations, however likely. Molly Roberts, a Washington Post opinion writer, put it this way: “The possibility of aliens is the possibility of annihilation by a hostile species, but it’s also the possibility of whole worlds beyond our own that our minds can populate as our whims move us. And in many ways it is more comforting to contemplate a cosmos that is alive and awake rather than just light-years of cold, sterile emptiness.”

Americans watched the wonderfully schlocky “To Serve Man,” with its intimation of other worlds, the same year President John F. Kennedy spoke to a Rice University audience and called for a national effort to land a man on the moon “before this decade is out.” Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” a mere seven years later was essentially the tiniest, tentative reaching out toward other worlds (that may or may not exist).

Even if we eventually learn that our unidentified aerial phenomena are themselves mundane, let’s keep reaching. The idea that there might be something more out there, something almost unimaginably more, keeps us alive. And aware. And humble.

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