The Carter Administration’s Attempt to Create a NASA UFO Commission

Forty-three years ago was the last time the U.S. government considered creating an official commission to investigate and report on UFOs. Despite Washington’s efforts to dissuade the public from any interest in UFOs through the 1969 issuance of the University of Colorado’s Condon Report, UFOs continued to appear. Eight years later, with President Jimmy Carter in office, his administration thought the time was right to officially request that NASA look into the phenomenon.

As put by a NASA scientist in a memo issued around the same time, however, “undertaking a formal [UFO] study at this time appears fraught with perils.” Needless to say, the commission was never finalized, and the 1977 deliberations between NASA, the White House, and other governmental agencies are an almost-forgotten episode in the official history of American ufology.

Jimmy Carter, UFO Witness

The inauguration of Jimmy Carter as the thirty-ninth President of the United States ushered a new round of expectations in the UFO community. After all, it could be said he was a member of that community. President Carter, who was a former Georgia governor, peanut farmer, and U.S. Navy nuclear engineer, not only claimed to have seen a UFO but officially reported it. In terms of UFO data, President Carter’s sighting is not an impressive incident, falling into the category of nocturnal light. The sighting would surely be forgotten if Carter had not become the president.

The first account of Carter’s sighting appeared in October 1973—during that year’s big UFO flap—when dispatches from Georgia quoted the governor’s first statement on UFOs: “I’ve seen one myself.” The story was picked up in the press, prompting the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma City and the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) in Maryland to send UFO questionnaires to the Georgia State Capitol. Carter personally filled out both questionnaires and gave permission to use his name as a witness. According to the questionnaires, the sighting occurred “shortly after dark” in October 1969 when Carter and ten other “members of Leary Georgia Lions Club” were “outdoors waiting for a meeting to begin at 7:30 p.m.” The sighting lasted between ten to twelve minutes and the object, located at “about 30 degrees above the horizon,” was described as “about the same size as the moon, maybe a little smaller, varied from brighter/larger than planet to apparent size of the moon.”

President Carter’s UFO story reemerged as he gained prominence during the 1976 presidential campaign. On June 8, the National Enquirer published a short interview with Carter in which he said, “I am convinced that UFOs exist because I have seen one,” adding that “I’ll never make fun of people who say they’ve seen unidentified objects in the sky.” In that interview, Carter also made an important promise to the American public: “If I become President, I’ll make every piece of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public and the scientists.”

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