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A New Exhibit at the National Archives Explores Government UFO Documents

Photo from UFO sighting in Riverside, California, November 23, 1951. Photograph via National Archives, Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force (Air Staff).

The US Air Force ended the two-decade-plus-long UFO investigation known as Project Blue Book 50 years ago this week, deciding that, among other things, that no sighting or evidence had managed to “represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge.”

If you believe that, you may not be the target audience for the National Archives’ new exhibit, which will place some of Project Blue Book’s documents on display in the Archives’ East Rotunda Gallery.

This chart shows the correlation between national media coverage of several highly publicized sightings and daily UFO sightings reported between June and September 1952. Image via National Archives, Records of Headquarters US Air Force (Air Staff).

Project Blue Book has maintained a spot in some parts of the American psyche, including a History Channel series named for it,  and another, Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation, executive produced by former Blink-182 member Tom DeLonge. DeLonge has emerged as a somewhat unexpected expert on ufology. The Air Force still considers 701 of the sightings reported to it during the investigation as “unidentified.”

A majority of UFO sightings reported to Project Blue Book could be explained. Most, like the incident depicted in this comic, were caused by misidentification of known objects. As this comic book sensationalizing the sightings over Washington, DC, in 1952 shows, not all Americans were convinced by the government’s conclusions. Image via National Archives, Records of Headquarters US Air Force (Air Staff).

The documents will be on display from December 5, 2019, through January 8, 2020. The National Archives Museum, 701 Constitution Avenue, NW. 

Correction: This post originally incorrectly stated DeLonge was an executive producer on Project Blue Book.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.