The UFO museum in Roswell, New Mexico (2010).
J Dykstra/Wikimedia Commons
debunk / science

In 1947, A High-Altitude Balloon Crash Landed in Roswell. The Aliens Never Left

Despite its persistence in popular culture, extraterrestrial life owes more to the imagination than reality.
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The body of the story contained a dramatic, memorable sentence: “The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment Group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today, that the field has come into the possession of a Flying Saucer.”

“Apparently, it was better from the Air Force’s perspective that there was a crashed ‘alien’ spacecraft out there than to tell the truth,” says Roger Launius, the recently-retired curator of space history at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

“A flying saucer was easier to admit than Project Mogul,” Launius adds, a chuckle in his voice. “And with that, we were off to the races.”

It was after the close of World War II, a time when nuclear weapons cast a long shadow. Truth-telling was not a priority, and there were remarkably unusual events underscoring the situation at hand.

Everywhere you looked in 1947, the global, social and political chessboard was being re-divided. The Soviet Union began to claim eastern European nations for itself in a new post-war vacuum. Voice of America started broadcasting in Russian to the eastern bloc, peddling the principles of American democracy. The U.S. sent V2 rockets carrying payloads of corn seeds and fruit flies into outer space. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the “Doomsday Clock” ticking, and the Marshall Plan was in the making to rebuild war-torn Europe. Small wonder that in the heat of summer that year, flying saucers became all the rage.
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