June 24, 1997
Ever since an unidentified object crashed by a army base near Roswell, New Mexico, the government has insisted that America did not experience a close encounter of the extra-terrestrial kind. Today, the government tried to end speculation once and for all; Air Force Colonel John Haynes said the crash involved a military balloon, not UFOs. After this background report by Charles Krause, Jim Lehrer leads a discussion.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
June 24, 1997
A discussion of the Roswell Report and the public's fascination with UFOs.
View the NewsHour's military coverage.
Browse the official Air Force report on the Roswell incident.
Roswell: Anatomy of a Myth supports the government's claims that no UFOs crashed in the desert.
The International UFO Museum & Research Center
CHARLES KRAUSE: Fifty years ago, something crashed in the New Mexico desert--but exactly what has been in dispute ever since. The year was 1947--the place an Army Air Force base just outside Roswell, New Mexico. On July 8th of that year Roswell army air field said it found the remains of what it called a "flying disk."
But the army air command in Fort Worth quickly recanted the flying saucer report, suggesting instead that the wreckage was part of a weather balloon. For nearly 50 years believers in extraterrestrial life have searched for clues to what really landed in Roswell.
SPOKESMAN: But there seems to be no question that there actually is a large, unidentified object circling the Earth at incredible speed.
CHARLES KRAUSE: and the possibility that there's life on other planets has fascinated millions of Americans and Hollywood for generations. "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was released in the early 50's, four years after the Roswell incident. And audiences continued to flock to alien films like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and scores of others. As recently as last year, the blockbuster hit, "Independence Day," again made reference to the Roswell landing.
ACTOR PORTRAYING PRESIDENT: ("Independence Day") Regardless of what you may have read in the tabloids, there have never been any spacecraft recovered by the government. Take my word for it. There's no area 51. There's no recovered spaceship.
ACTOR: ("Independence Day") Excuse me, Mr. President, that's not entirely accurate.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And on television, the series "X-Files" chronicles the para-normal. Sightings of unidentified flying objects or UFO's are regularly reported, some complete with convincing photographs. Even Former President Jimmy Carter once said he saw one. In March, a mysterious triangle of lights appeared in Arizona, sparking rumors of yet another alien spacecraft.
MAN: It was a perfect triangle just floating across the sky, way up there.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Also in March, 39 members of Heaven's Gate committed suicide in California. Their leader Marshall Applewhite had told them a spaceship located behind the Hale-Bopp comet was waiting to take them away.
MARSHALL APPLEWHITE: We will go definitely on board a craft to leave when the spading occurs.
CHARLES KRAUSE: A recent Time Magazine/Yankelovich poll found that fully 34 percent of all Americans think intelligent life from other planets has visited the earth, and of those, 65 percent think a UFO did crash near Roswell. Today in Washington, Air Force Colonel John Haynes debunked the Roswell legend, saying it really was a mission to detect soviet nuclear blasts using high altitude balloons. To buttress its case, the Air Force showed a video of balloon launches and dummies, which it said were mistaken for aliens.
COL. JOHN HAYNES, United States Air Force: Today we are releasing the final report to address questions about alleged bodies associated with the Roswell story. One, Air Force activities which occurred over a period of many years had been consolidated and are now represented to have occurred in two or three days in July 1947.
Two, bodies observed in the New Mexico desert were probably test dummies that were carried aloft by U.S. Air Force high altitude balloons for scientific research.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But there was a significant discrepancy: The Air Force acknowledged today that the first year the dummies were used was 1953--six years after the Roswell incident.
REPORTER: Colonel, how do you square the UFO enthusiasts saying that they're talking about 1947, and you're talking about dummies used in the 50's, almost a decade later?
COL. JOHN HAYNES: Well, I'm afraid that's a problem that we have with time compression. I don't know what they saw in ‘47, but I'm quite sure it probably was Project Mogul. But I think if you find that people talk about things over a period of time, they begin to lose exactly when the date was.
REPORTER: Your name is now--Col. John Haynes is going to go down in UFO lore as one of the people who took part--in the minds of some people--in the continuing coverup by the government. How do you know that you're not being used--how do you know the full story?
COL. JOHN HAYNES: Because our job is to review all the Air Force documents for this era, and that's how we came up with this exciting, interesting, and intriguing, quite frankly, report.
REPORTER: Do you believe in UFO'S?
COL. JOHN HAYNES: Personally, no, sir. And I have no reason to believe that they're real.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The Air Force hopes today's report is the final word on the Roswell incident. Its title: The Roswell Report: Case Closed.