The truth is out there. But truth often boils down to whom or what you want to believe especially when it comes to a subject that has vexed Americans and so many others for what seems like forever. Are UFOs the real McCoy? Are they a secret government program? What is truth?
Jan C. Harzan believes UFOs are real, from some other planet or even dimension. He’s been a believer since childhood. Today, nearly fifty years after his first encounter, he leads an organization of thousands of like-minded people who share his belief. “I was ten,” he said, when he saw what today would be called a UFO. Its details remain vivid.
It was, he recalled, “brick-shaped…all one seamless metallic tank…corrugated cobalt blue landing gear…brown cross bars on each side.” Today Harzan is the Executive Director of MUFON, the Mutual Unidentified Flying Object Network, an international organization that investigates and researches sightings of unidentified flying objects.
UFOs are not necessarily other worldly but, as their name implies, simply not identifiable. And that makes them even more exotic and mysterious especially considering that countless credible, respectable individuals, including Presidents, Prime Ministers, airline and military pilots, even astronauts, have attested to having seen them. In fact, a third to half of all Americans share a belief in UFOs.
In the 1950’s, the Air Force conducted an in-depth study of unidentified flying objects. Project Bluebook was begun to determine if UFOs were a threat to the nation and to scientifically analyze UFO-related data. The project began in 1952, ending in 1970. Its conclusions---that UFOs were not a national security threat nor extraterrestrial---were less than satisfying. It remains a position that Harzan and others hold today.
“I think we have stuff that is documentable right now,” said Harzan. And he may not be alone. In the Spring of 2019, the Navy announced plans and guidelines on reporting sightings and encounters with unidentified aircraft. In making the announcements, the Navy stressed that the new policy was simply an “updating and formalizing process” of collecting and analyzing sightings. But the announcement did come on the heels of Department of Defense-released video of two Navy fighter pilots encountering a craft neither seemed able to identify.
Colorado has its share of believers, too, many of whom flock to the San Luis Valley during the warmer months to a place called the UFO Watchtower. Owned by Judy Messoline, it’s literally an elevated platform where UFO curious can scan a pristine night sky for anything and everything extraterrestrial. Last summer, Messoline tallied 10,000 visitors to the site located twenty minutes north of Alamosa on Colorado Highway 17.
Messoline moved to Hooper from Golden to raise cattle. That didn’t work out and, because she wasn’t going to move again, she quickly had to come up with a ‘Plan B.’ “I’d never go back to the city.” The idea for the UFO tourist site came “from the locals,” who’d explained the Valley’s reputation as a UFO wonderland. Since the 1970’s, the region’s been well known for the unknown and unexplained, most often UFO-related.
UFOs are often the grist for jokes or even ridicule. But Harzan, who’s recounted his boyhood experience countless times, and Messoline, who counts twenty-something real time sightings from her Hooper home, neither laugh nor minimize the possibility that life outside our reality is possible.
Harzan has a bevy of stories he calls credible and, by his judgment, nearly unimpeachable, including close encounters and even abductions. Messoline, a non-believer when she moved to Hooper, is today convinced that we are not alone.
“We get between five hundred to a thousand reports a month,” said Harzan. “We have thirty percent that are legitimate.” Messoline recalled her most vivid UFO moment, it was a form she described as “cigar-shaped (that appeared) between us and the mountains.” The craft---or whatever it was---“just went zip right in front of our eyes.” It was, she estimated, as big as a tractor-trailer. Others at the Watchtower also saw the same thing.
In the visible universe---by one estimate 50 billion light years across---how realistic is an extraterrestrial visit? Some astronomers opine that all current beliefs about the speed of light would have to be rendered obsolete in order for the nearly unimaginable distances to be covered. Or ‘worm hole’ navigation---a shortcut connecting two separate points in space---would have to be mastered. Other theories explaining extraterrestrial visits also include conquering warp speeds or even cloaking in order for humans to host a visit by a distant neighbor.
The vastness, the immense distances of space challenge lay imaginations. NASA’s Voyager I and II, as examples, have only recently left the solar system, a distance of twelve billion miles. The pair was launched in 1977. For an earthly visit from beings beyond our solar system, it would take a technology well beyond what now is understood and may only exist on drawing boards or in imaginations.
Still, indefinable barriers have not dissuaded people from the possibility of life beyond what is now known. “It’s kind of arrogant to believe we’re the only form of life,” said Diana, who asked her last name not be used. “I’ve always believed there was other life; that we’re not the only ones.”