NASA appoints new head of UFO research

 a silver balloon rises into a blue sky
a silver balloon rises into a blue sky

NASA has named a new head of UFO research.

Mark McInerney was appointed as Director of UAP Research, a role in which he will oversee the agency's studies into unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAP, a new term that encompasses UFOs in the sky as well as unexplained objects or events that are observed under water, in space or that appear to travel between any of these domains.

McInerney previously served as the agency's liaison to the U.S. Department of Defense. In this new role, McInerney will coordinate NASA's communications and studies into UAP in order to "establish a robust database for the evaluation of future UAP," according to a NASA statement. In addition, NASA's new UAP chief will help the agency provide expertise in artificial intelligence and space-based Earth observation satellites to help the U.S. government begin collecting data that it hopes might help explain the UFO phenomenon.

Related: NASA UFO report finds no evidence of 'extraterrestrial origin' for UAP sightings

In a briefing on Thursday (Sept. 14) held to discuss the first public report of its independent UAP study team, NASA leaders initially stated that they would not be naming the director publicly. It's unclear why the agency reversed that decision, but comments made during the briefing suggested that members of NASA's UAP study group had received threats and harassment online.

"That's in part why we are not splashing the name of our new director out there, because science needs to be free, science needs to undergo a real and rigorous and rational process and you need the freedom of thought to be able to do that" Dan Evans, assistant deputy associate administrator for research at NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said. "Some of the threats and the harassment have been beyond the pale, quite frankly, towards some of our panelists. And yes, it's important that science be free as part of that process.

Despite the harassment NASA's UAP study team received, agency leaders are optimistic that this new position will help give UFOs the serious scientific scrutiny the topic deserves. In the statement announcing McInerney's appointment, Nicola Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said that the new position director of UAP Research is "a pivotal addition to NASA's team and will provide leadership, guidance and operational coordination for the agency and the federal government to use as a pipeline to help identify the seemingly unidentifiable."


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In their report published Thursday (Sept. 14), NASA's UAP study team concluded that current analysis of the UAP phenomenon is limited by poor quality data, a lack of multiple measurements or even basic baseline data.

"The NASA independent study team did not find any evidence that UAP have an extraterrestrial origin, but we don't know what these UAP are," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a briefing Thursday after the report's release. "The top takeaway from the study is that there is a lot more to learn."