Project Blue Book, Science-Fiction, Television

Project Blue Book and Modern Myth in America—Part I

With only a few aired episodes under its belt, History Channel’s new offering, Project Blue Book, has, for me, shifted from questionable program on my list of DVR timers to one verging on essential. Starring Aiden Gillen (Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish from HBO’s Game of Thrones) as Dr. Josef Allen Hynek, this historical drama takes as its source material the actual program begun, then in secret, by the Air Force after the alleged 1947 UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico, to investigate claims of other encounters with mysterious, unexplained aerial phenomena.

The Roswell incident, according to conspiracy theorists, sparked the creation of a secret committee, comprised of highly-placed scientists and military and government officials, known as Majestic 12 (or MJ-12), by executive order of then-President Truman, to locate and collect remains of crashed alien aircraft. One theory states that the recovered artifacts from the Roswell crash (including the body or bodies of actual extraterrestrials—conflicting reports leave in question whether the being(s) were dead or alive upon recovery) were hauled swiftly away to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Greene County, Ohio, and deposited within infamous Hangar 18 for further research. The crash in Roswell was eventually revealed (reported) by the Air Force to be the wreckage of a downed weather balloon.

The existence of MJ-12 might largely be considered to be fiction. However, the efforts of those involved in Project Blue Book are documented and now exist within the National Archives’ Project Blue Book collection as public records of our nation’s early interests in UFO phenomena.

In the wake of the Roswell incident, Project Blue Book (the third of its kind on record) opened in 1952 and was officially closed in 1969. The scope of Project Blue Book included 1) substantiating whether UFO phenomena posed dangers to U.S. national security, and 2) appraising evidentiary data of UFO encounters from a purely scientific perspective (in an effort, perhaps, to properly explain and dismiss reported occurrences observed by the public and pilots—military, commercial, and private) to determine the data’s validity. In all, those involved with Project Blue Book received more than 12,000 documented claims involving UFO encounters and determined most were the results of observations of natural phenomena (stars, clouds, meteors, meteorites) and conventional aircraft.

Gillen’s character, Dr. Hynek, in the History Channel program, was an actual participant in the real Project Blue Book. An astronomer by education and training, Hynek was a professor and unapologetic skeptic when it came to questions of alien visitations and the other-worldly provenance of UFOs, and his role in the project was to uncover factually plausible and likely explanations for the many claims of UFO encounters he investigated. Over time, however, his skepticism began to waver.

Project Blue Book will elicit, rightly, comparisons to another, now-defunct show about government conspiracies and alien encounters—The X-Files. But while the latter was a fictional show often inspired by fact, Project Blue Book seems intended to be a fictional program grounded in recorded events. Without question, the creators of the Project Blue Book television drama take many liberties with respect to the truth and facts surrounding the project as a whole and the individual cases presented. But even dramatic license does not affect or diminish the ever-blossoming interest of a wide sector of the general public in the events the program seeks to dramatize. And it only validates further that America’s (and perhaps the world’s) central, collective mythology has now evolved to embrace the truth or fiction of extraterrestrial encounters (and abductions).

Part II coming soon.

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