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Did UFOs Visit STS-80 Columbia? April 18, 2011

Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.

Not a flying saucer. This is Wakeshield Facility 3, one of the satellites we launched and retrieved from Columbia on STS-80 during Nov. 1996. Columbia was soaring 220 miles over Mexico's Baja peninsula. (NASA STS080-708-065)

During the week of April 11, 2011, the FBI released some of its investigation records on UFOs. The reports reflect the reality that people do see unexplained phenomena in the sky. Are these sightings evidence for intelligent life elsewhere, or some secret flight testing program?

Much UFO speculation in the past has focused on one of my shuttle missions, STS-80, flown in late 1996. Some have maintained that video shot during this Columbia space shuttle flight provides evidence for unknown objects moving in the night sky. I have reviewed this video (for the first time in 1997), and conclude that it shows commonplace and well-known objects near the shuttle, all of them observed on every shuttle flight. These videos show low-light television camera images of ice particles or man-made debris drifting out of Columbia’s cargo bay, and floating in the vicinity of the shuttle, likely within a few tens of feet of the orbiter.

I have seen these snippets of STS-80 video many times since our flight. These video scenes were recorded by remote control, under ground command, with flight controllers in Houston’s Mission Control operating our low-light TV camera in the cargo bay. As far as I remember, nobody on the crew was looking out the window at these ice crystals or debris particles. Nobody thought anything that our crew observed out the window was of “alien” origin, or something not connected to the shuttle’s routine operations (e.g. a large rotating disk or any such unusual structure). Once you understand what the solar illumination conditions are (orbital twilight, with darkness below and sunlight at our altitude), it’s easy to conclude that the video shows normal small ice and debris particles drifting aimlessly away from the orbiter, with some pieces becoming sunlit as they move out of the shuttle’s shadow. During our science operations, robotic satellite deployments and grapples, and robot arm tests and exercises, we routinely noticed these ice particles and debris catching the brilliant sunlight outside. But these sightings were non-events for us, as we understood what we were seeing completely.

Both the flight crew and Mission Control are always attentive to particles seen outside the windows, or on payload bay cameras. Such sightings could be clues to spacecraft problems, such as a vital piece of equipment that has shaken loose. Those sightings need to be reported ASAP and openly discussed — is it a fuel leak, or a piece off the rudder, or damage to the TPS (tiles), or other bad news? Crewmembers and flight controllers have no reason to ever keep it secret or to keep these discussions off normal radio channels.

Aside from details of specific Defense Department payloads and their deployments, astronauts have no classification regulations or rules preventing anyone from discussing anything they’ve seen or experienced on space flights. No secret non-disclosure signatures, no secret threats, no secret brainwashing–we communicate openly with the public. What we get, you get. What we see that’s unusual, we tell you about.

I have spent many hours gazing out the shuttle windows during my 53 days in orbit, under all lighting and orbiter attitude conditions. The objects seen in the STS-80 videos are ordinary debris particles or ice crystals, some hit by shuttle thruster blasts that cause a change in their motion. Local lighting conditions also change the brightness of some objects as they drift into or out of shadow. I have never seen any evidence in space or on Earth of spacecraft or phenomena not explained by our routine space operations in the shuttle or Space Station programs. My crewmates and I have not seen any evidence for UFOs or spacecraft of “alien” origin or behavior. The STS-80 videos are records of normal space shuttle operations and optical phenomena.

It is regrettable that so many spaceflight-minded young people have their enthusiasms exploited by misinterpretations of such shuttle videos. These inaccurate theories about what the videos show–some naive, some possibly deliberately misleading–waste a great deal of productive energy. Insisting that astronauts have seen alien vehicles is incorrect: a deliberate falsehood. This myth wastes years of healthy curiosity and diverts it to pseudo-scientific wild goose chases, and is a disservice to the fantastic and dedicated work done in orbit by Space Station and shuttle crews, and their support team on Earth. Those still arguing about non-existent UFOs seen by space shuttle crews are wasting their time. Worse, they are misleading young explorers who don’t deserve to miss out on the genuine thrills and wonder of the spaceflight experience, its importance for the advancement of our species, and our understanding of the home planet and our universe.

Tom Jones, PhD

Planetary Scientist

Astronaut on STS-59, -68, -80, and -98

Author of Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir, and Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System.



1. TWCS - April 18, 2011


2. Pete - April 18, 2011

So why do other astronauts claim they’ve seen and or believe in UFO that are extraterrestrial? Also, what do you believe?

skywalking1 - April 19, 2011

Don’t know any astronauts who have told me that they have seen UFOs in space. People see UFOs…I just don’t believe they are spaceships or intelligently controlled phenomena. On STS-80, we saw no UFOs.

Jim Oberg - April 19, 2011

Aside from comments from Mitchell [who is only passing on hearsay] and Cooper [whose earthside sightings look remarkably different when actually investigated, which is why these investigations are covered up by UFO proponents], almost all the ‘internet documented’ astronaut space UFO claims are faked statements by proponents. As long as an eager-believer audience of gullibles swallow them unthinkingly, that’s the ‘quality’ of such evidence that will keep being promulgated.

3. Harv - April 18, 2011

I believe him. And I also believe what would be thousand of airline pilots if they were to say that they have never seen anything that resembled a typical UFO. Such words prove nothing, at least, to anyone that has had a decent sighing of an object that defies all attributes of conventionally held rules of phyiscs. UFOs exist.

skywalking1 - April 19, 2011

UFOs are seen regularly. But extraordinary claims of UFO origins require extraordinary proof. In terms of science, that proof hasn’t materialized. My point in writing is that we saw no UFOs on STS-80, and claims to the contrary are false.

4. shirleypal - April 18, 2011

Good to hear astronauts speaking out, when will this secrecy end.

5. Jim Oberg - April 18, 2011

The posting is being discussed — and dissed — here:

6. shirleypal - April 19, 2011

I have been following the thread on Above Top Secret, same old nonsense from some posters..

I am a believer.

7. Majic - April 19, 2011

“I just don’t believe they are spaceships or intelligently controlled phenomena”

You would be wrong about that my friend.

I don’t have any proof to show you but i know from my own close encounter experience that UFOs do in fact exist and some of them are indeed intelligently controlled.

You shouldn’t be so quick to discourage others and judge something you obviously know nothing about.


skywalking1 - April 19, 2011

Yes, I could be wrong. But without proof, as a scientist I have to go with the idea that UFOs (and we saw none on STS-80) might be natural phenomena we don’t understand. And MagicUFOForum, please spare me the insults in future; I do know what my crew saw on STS-80.

8. Soloman - April 19, 2011

Indeed, Majic.

I to *Know* from experience that some “UFO’s” are indeed piloted by living, breathing, intelligent “pilots” , or “People”, really.

The “belief” game is fun ..
but knowing is a whole other beast…

Also, as a scientist, Tom, You actually have to also go with the idea that UFO’s “might” be intelligently controlled by living beings like ourselves.


After all…
You know better than most, how vast everything is..
and how many planets are in “the neighborhood”
It would only be ignorant for a truly scientific mind to think that these might not be exactly what some claim to know they are.
Even (or especially) science today tells us it is not only a “possibility” but a Probability.

Thanks for your post!
and Blessings to you, Skywalker! lol

ad astra per aspera

skywalking1 - April 19, 2011

Life elsewhere in the universe I consider likely. I consider it unlikely and unproven that anyone is visiting Earth. Until proof appears, simpler explanations must suffice. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.

9. mike - April 19, 2011

skywalking1 thank you sir, I been trying to figure this out for years what i been looking at. Since you stated you “have spent many hours gazing out the shuttle windows during my 53 days in orbit”, maybe you could shead some light on this. I’m pretty sure you didn’t miss this one it when it happen November 19, 1996. The famous circle formation with a bright light appearing in the middle of the formation. I just wanted to know
If you could explain what was going on??

My goal in life is to know how humanity came about and understand the universe before i die.

one more thing if you have no idea what i’m talking about here’s the video…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vxr-Os1k-v4

10. Majic - April 19, 2011

If you post a comment that Tom doesn’t agree with or like

he will delete it

doesn’t say much for his credibility now does it ?

11. mike - April 19, 2011

ice crystal are known to make a circular formation out of know where???….interesting fact

12. Troyster - April 24, 2011

UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object. If you see something floating in space and you assume it’s debris from the shuttle but you’re not sure what it is, then it’s a UFO.

skywalking1 - April 25, 2011

Thanks for your comment. I don’t assume it’s debris. It IS debris, seen many times by many crewmembers. That’s the way debris looks in a low light TV camera. So this is an IFO. TJ

13. Robert - May 8, 2011

Dear Astronaut Jones,

Would You be willing to provide the exact date and time that the anomalous phenomena events were recorded along with the position of Columbia relative to the Earth for that same date and time?

Most Respectfully,


skywalking1 - May 8, 2011

Sorry, I don’t have that information. NASA has the archive of video from all shuttle missions at Johnson Space Center. Your request should go through their public affairs office in Houston. It’s certainly public information. Good luck.

Jim Oberg - May 8, 2011

I believe you will find all the information you request here:


I’m sorry that your diligent internet searching did not come across that report already.

14. Robert - May 8, 2011

Re: Jim Oberg Reply.

Clarification is that I am inquiring about the object moving from right to left and then suddenly accelerating at an angle of approximately 200 degrees from its original flight path immediately after a flash in the atmosphere and followed by a beam of light directed towards its previous location.

I would like to determine where STS-80 was during this date and time in addition to the location of Columbia relative to Earth. The previous reply to me seems to indicate a different anomalous phenomenon.

15. Robert - May 9, 2011

Update (Information received from a friend):

The where of a satellite’s location can be defined by many means, some astronomical. Generally, several such calculations are automatically recorded as attribute information on image, geophysical and other data. This is usually converted into absolute locational information, in x,y,z coordinates. This is further complicated by the gravity geoid, which continually modifies the elevation — as well as other variables, some of them quite subtle.

The engineers who usually worry about such precise locational and reference data are at NASA/GSFC’s “Attitude Control,” or were when I worked there.They are very good people and, while they would not mislead you, would probably be astonished to receive an inquiry from an individual member of John Q. Public.

If you requested it, you could learn what software was in use at that time, where the data were stored, etc. With knowledge about the software, you could hypothetically request a copy of that software from COSMIC, an university affiliate in Virginia tasked with providing public-domain software and information to the public.

At any rate, for some satellites, one orbit entirely around the earth is completed in about 28 minutes (for those satellites at about 500 miles up, if memory serves …). So, satellites move very rapidly, which is why locational information is usually provided as attribute info to several decimal places. Even a country as big as the USA will be overflown in a very short time!

Further, you would need to know the absolute azimuthal bearing of the camera at the time of imaging and the distance to calculate an x,y,z for what I will label the dot or dots. I do not know what they were and refuse to identify them with precision because that would be quite unscientific and very unprofessional — in short, utterly dishonest. In space, distance references for calibration are usually nonexistent and something which looks quite close can be thousands of miles away: you usually just plain do not know.

If you can determine the relative angles to recognizable stars, you can calculate vectors (bearings), but that would only provide you with a line on the ground for potential calculated flyover. With precise attitude control data, the line can be precisely calculated (line maybe 10 miles wide); however, with this image, the line could easily be 500 miles wide and splaying out the farther you are from the imaging platform. The satellite from which the imagery was made would also lie above that line, or at least its extrapolated continuation. It’s all a matter of geometry — all dependent on how precisely the time of imaging is measured.

Bottom line: if you can get the software used and the precise time of imaging, you can calculate the reasonably precise location of the satellite at the time of imaging. I have neither the time nor the inclination to perform such onerous calculations: taxes every year are bad enough, thank you. This really is “Rocket Science,” so is non-trivial.

16. Robert - May 9, 2011

Dear Skywalking,

Now, if after having read the above explanation, you will realize why so many people prefer not to accept your explanations. It is far to complex for them, for you and for me to comprehend without extreme degrees of analysis. We look to you and NASA to give us much more accurate answers than all of that hodge-podge. It can be provided because, as demonstrated above, it is available for you and others within that domain to do so if you and such others would simply do so instead of curt, dis-respectful answers to us. All we want is “proof” as to the locaton that the anomaly that seemed to have been shot at originated. We are not claiming it was a “UFO” or that the “beam” was such or not. We just want the facts, only the facts and all of the facts.

17. T. Jones - May 9, 2011

Dear Robert:
With all respect, I’m a private citizen and don’t get paid to do research on UFOs, which after all is your interest. Please pursue the data with NASA.

I don’t believe my answer to you above was in any way disrespectful, but your note of May 9 does not speak well of your community. I’m sorry I’ve not satisfied you. And again, good luck.

T. Jones

18. Robert - May 11, 2011

Dear Skywalker,

This is also an apology to you for having mixed up the two events. I was not too impressed with the multiple circle of objects and was only concentrating on the Discovery STS-48 events but did not realize these were two seperate missions until recently as I became more involved.

May 11, 2011

Ms. Anita Krishnamurthi, PhD

Astrophysics Science Division
Code 660.1,
Office for General Investigator Programs
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Dear Dr. Krishnamurthi,

I stand corrected with regard to identifying the events previously reported to you as originating from Columbia STS-80 whereas it should have been reported as Discovery STS-48.

If you view the following video you will readily see how such an error could easily occur.


Most Sincerely,

Name/Address/Telephone Number

19. Jim Oberg - May 12, 2011

Robert: “The engineers who usually worry about such precise locational and reference data are at NASA/GSFC’s “Attitude Control,” or were when I worked there.” Since you confused the STS-80 and STS-48 missions, and for other reasons [below], permit me to express some uncertainty that you ever held any technical position with NASA anywhere. Shuttle operational control is at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Tom and I worked for many years, while Goddard provided comm support as well as control of a fleet of neatsy-keen unmanned spacecraft [for which they did do pointing].

“At any rate, for some satellites, one orbit entirely around the earth is completed in about 28 minutes (for those satellites at about 500 miles up, if memory serves …).” Memory fails you. Shuttles never get as high as 500 miles, and one shuttle orbit at their lower altitudes is usually 91-92 minutes.

“If you can determine the relative angles to recognizable stars, you can calculate vectors (bearings),” Why would you ever need to do that for a shuttle CCTV image, since the camera’s pan/tilt values plus its known shuttle coordinate position and the shuttle’s R/P/Y angles [based on its onboard SV) define unambiguously the inertial pointing angle? A ‘vector’ is NOT a ‘bearing’, by the way – do you still insist you worked for NASA?

I have already collected the attitude data you asked about for STS-48, and posted it here:

My own analysis of that STS-48 zig-zag video persuades me it is a small piece of shuttle-generated ‘stuff’ (probably ice) entrained in a thruster pulse, and that pro-UFO arguments are incompetent and delusional. I explain the rationale in great detail here:

Click to access 99purdue-48-speech.pdf

20. Jim Oberg - May 12, 2011

Robert, Anita Krishnamurthi is no longer working at NASA Goddard. Do you claim to be in touch with her?

21. Robert - May 12, 2011

Dear Jim,

You fail on both replies to replies to me, Jim.

1. You failed to read my entries where you will find that I never claimed to have worked or been affiliated with NASA/Goddard. I wrote very clearly at the beginning of the entry “Update Information received from a friend” who did work at NASA/Goddard.

2. He was not referring to the shuttle itself and was referring to satellites in general. He is skeptical with regard to “UFO’s” as am I.

3. I obtained Anita Krishnamurthi’s name from the current NASA/GSFC site on the Internet. I did visit there as a guest with my friend and he has never claimed that NASA/GSFC tracked shuttles.

You need to read carefully before making personal attacks and perhaps you are man enough to apologize as I have for having made an error with regard to confusing STS-80 with STS-48.

22. Robert - May 13, 2011

Dear Jim,

Also, please note that your references to the “zig-zag” in the video taken on board of STS-48 was not the result of thruster thrust/s because the image being recorded does not change …only SOME of the anomalous phenomena change direction and move. You should have accessed the link that I provided in an earlier post by me:


Also, please access this link:

Most Sincerely,


23. Jim Oberg - May 14, 2011

Dear Robert:

I find that people who misunderstand factual disagreements about offered opinions as ‘personal attacks’ have an attitude not conducive to rational, productive discourse. Make whatever use you wish with the factual material I’ve linked to, and Mr. Jones’ comments, and be well. Ditto your friend who says he worked at NASA Goddard — even if he can’t remember the basics of low Earth orbits [all of which take 90 to 100 minutes for each pass around the planet].

24. Robert - May 14, 2011

My friend replied to me:

“Thank you for not mentioning my name! I do not need the grief: all that I told you is accurate and scientifically/mathematically defensible. I do not take any stand on the existence of UFOs being piloted by extraterrestrials, etc. Not enough objective scientific facts exist to draw any such conclusions!”

I also add that the zig-zag link that you provided is within that category of not having enough objective scientific facts …many astronauts and scientists disagree with you, Jim Oberg. To me it is quite logical that the anomaly recorded on STS-48 was not caused by thrust bursts because Discovery does not move …only the multiple distant images in more than one direction (the anomaly that changes position and accelerates as well as the streak of light narrowly missing it. It would take a blind person not to realize this.

25. Jim Oberg - May 14, 2011

For a one second firing of a shuttle vernier jet, as seen on the STS-48 video (and in telemetry records), how much do YOU figure the shuttle should appear to move? The answer is in the links I provided. Please show us the basis for your claim. What is the momentary thrust, the induced attitude rate change, and the total attitude deflection caused by that change during the duration of the video? Compare that to the scale of the field of view. This is open book — you can use the ‘call a friend’ option.

26. skywalking1 - May 15, 2011

Readers: I’ve had to delete several posts in this thread due to personal attacks. They won’t be tolerated, and those posts containing disrespectful name-calling will be deleted.
Tom Jones

27. Robert - May 15, 2011

The links that I have provided above on this thread clearly demonstrate the basis for my willingness to agree to disagree with the opposing links that have been provided. I am not a supporter of UFOs (and am notorious within the so-called “UFO Field” as being a debunker of such) for having been instrumental in exposing the fraud/hoax of the Gulf Breeze, Florida “UFO” claims. Instead, I promote the serious study of anomalous aerial manifestations and phenomena. But it is my sincere opinion that one would have to be blind in the mind not to consider the STS-48 video not to be worthy of much better analysis than what has currently been provided by both sides of the argument.

28. Robert - May 15, 2011


You reply to an email that you deleted. I wish to make note here that you have apparently taken sides with a person opposing my views because they are in agreement with your own and he is a personal friend.

My previous email was not for you but for Jim Oberg due to his numerous personal attacks against me yet you delete my posts and not his.

This gives me just cause for having strong doubts about and open and fair exchange of views on this site.

I provide the following quotes from Jim Oberg with both his rudeness towards me as well as his sarcasm:

“Shuttle operational control is at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Tom and I worked for many years.”

“…do you still insist you worked for NASA?”

“Robert, Anita Krishnamurthi is no longer working at NASA Goddard. Do you claim to be in touch with her?”

“I find that people who misunderstand factual disagreements about offered opinions as ‘personal attacks’ have an attitude not conducive to rational, productive discourse.”

All that I had written back in reply to such very unprofessional comments is that a person that continuously finds fault in another (especially repeatedly) and ignoring their own err has, in my opinion, the mind of a child. I make no name calling in that but you chose to delete it while keeping the above quotes by Jim Oberg. I doubt that you will allow this post to remain also because it is accurate and fair.

29. Jim Oberg - May 15, 2011

Regarding Robert’s insistence that the STS-48 flash cannot be a thruster since the shuttle would noticeably change position, I had advised him to seek the actual flight telemetry data that showed the angular shift at MOST would be half a degree on a field of view of 25 degrees [at most, 1 %]. At this link [http://www.igs.net/~hwt/zigzag.html] there are charts of the autopilot attitude and rates, and the following text:

“Chart 2 shows a plot of telemetry from the shuttle during a six minute interval around the time of the zig-zag. The displayed parameters are the roll-pitch-yaw angle rate errors of the shuttle (bottom), the angular rate the shuttle is drifting in all three axes (center), and the amount the angles differ from the desired direction loaded into the computer (upper section). The “digital autopilot” (or “DAP”) is also told how much slack to allow the shuttle’s drift before making a corrective rocket firing — this is called a “deadband” and at the time of the zig-zag it was set at one degree. As can be read off the charts, the steering jet firing that was observed on the video as a flash occurred in response to a slow drift in ‘pitch error’ (see top section, dotted line labeled ‘pitch’), which had gradually been approaching the ‘deadband limit’ of one degree over the previous three minutes. The timing of the firing is thus shown to be determined by a slow ordinary flight process, and any coincidences with other factors (such as sunrise) are only by random chance. Notice that the change in pitch rate caused by the rocket firing is about 0.010 degrees per second (as shown on the center section data), which over a period of one minute amounts to an angular distance of half a degree.”

Robert is far from alone on this fundamental misunderstanding of the scale of angular shifts caused by shuttle vernier steering rockets. It is a very common objection made to the thruster explanation, by people who are unaware of the quantitative particulars of the system and make guesses.

Misinterpretation of the sometimes admittedly-amazing video scenes from shuttle cameras is easiest when, as in this case, people try to interpret them based on lack of familiarity with actual spaceflight parameters and practices — which is why Mr. Jones posted his material on STS-80 in the first place.

30. Robert - May 15, 2011

Dear Reader,

Robert has not insisted anything. Robert has stated both parties on opposing sides need to do additional more accurate research. To wit:

“…a plot of telemetry from the shuttle during a six minute interval AROUND the time of the zig-zag.” —Jim Oberg

In the video that I have provided (in addition to the other link) an unequal debate is provided on the side of proponents for the existence of UFOs. What I am providing is a more balanced and less biased presentation on this posting site.

Opponents to additional serious investigation and research: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin; Research Scientist Skeet Vaughan; Astronaut Tom Jones; James Oberg.

Proponents for additional serious investigation and research: Physicist Jack Kasher, PhD; Astronaut Edgar Mitchel, PhD; Mark Collato, PhD; Robert D. Boyd.

Most Sincerely,


31. Jim Oberg - May 19, 2011

Robert, if you want to discuss a topic not raised by Mr. Jones, perhaps you can start your own discussion group somewhere else. What comments do you have about the theme of this thread, the STS-80 video that is widely — but according to the primary witnesses, falsely — described as evidence for an anomalous stimulus? How is your assessment preferable to that of Drs. Jones, Musgrave, and other parties directly involved in the mission?

32. skywalking1 - May 19, 2011

Mr. Boyd (Robert):
Please keep your comments focused on STS-80. I’ve heard you out but will drop future comments that are off-topic.

33. Robert - May 19, 2011

Dear Skywalking1,

I think that my last post was relative to my previous posts and links. I also think that my posts have made your subject/s more comprehensible and interesting for your readers. I have nothing more to add. Thank You.


34. skywalking1 - September 8, 2014
35. Paul - January 17, 2015

Thanks for repost Mr. Jones!
I’m from Germany, sorry for my english. Well, I’m investigating the UFO-phenomena a few years already. I read a lot of stuff about this topic. But unfortunately I have to say, I never found the ultimate proof, that aliens are visting us. There are lots of rumors, tales and doubtful photos, but definitely evidence? None!
I saw the STS-80 video and some others more. Well, very beautiful pictures, but there are surely no UFOs or extraterrestrials shown. This particles have no intelligent behavior. Why should this be UFOs or Aliens? I would love to believe they are, but no! And there is no way to cover up something big like this. There were hundreds astronauts out there, and no one claimed to seen extraterrestrials beings. Sure, it’s a pity, but we have to deal with it.
Huge respect to Mr. Jones and colleagues for the great job out there!

36. jim oberg - December 4, 2016

So after all the complaints about Tom’s views on what HE saw, over at youtube, and nobody has come here to discuss it rationally?

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