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National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP)

National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP)

Early UFO organization. By the mid-1950s speculation about flying saucers, begun in 1947, had developed into a massive controversy. The possibility of extraterrestrial visitors and the scientific advances that a culture with interplanetary or even interstellar travel could bring captured the interest of a number of scientists. Among those in the midst of the controversy was Donald E. Keyhoe, journalist and retired marine officer. Beginning in 1950 Keyhoe wrote three books The Flying Saucers Are Real (1950), Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953), and The Flying Saucer Conspiracy (1955)in which he argues that flying saucers were extraterrestrial in origin, that the United States Air Force knew what they were, but that the government, fearful of public reaction, was covering up the evidence.

By 1956, Keyhoe, popular radio host Frank Edwards, physicist T. Townsend Brown, and several retired officers from the armed forces said they felt that an organization was needed to address the issues created by the "space visitors" controversy. After some initial organizational struggles, Keyhoe emerged as the group's director. The organization's periodical, The U.F.O. Investigator, promoted discussion of the extraterrestrial hypothesis and openly criticized both the air force for hoarding needed data and the contactees for their unsupported claims of contact with extraterrestrials.

Although continually on the verge of collapse, NICAP became the symbol of conservative scientific ufology and found some stability with the assistance of Richard Hall, who became secretary of the organization in 1958 and wrote The UFO Evidence (1964). That document was part of an effort by NICAP members to attract the attention of Congress to the UFO question. NICAP hoped the legislators would override the air force's reticence to share what it allegedly knew.

NICAP initially supported the efforts of the Condon Committee, headed by physicist Edward U. Condon as an independent and well-funded effort to study the question. However, it quickly withdrew cooperation when it was learned that Condon believed that UFOs were nonexistent and had no intention of conducting any "real" investigation. NICAP announced it would expand its activity to do what Condon was supposed to do, but NICAP's resolve came too late. When the Condon report was published it declared that further study of UFOs was unlikely to produce results, and NICAP was unable to respond to the massive drop in public interest in the UFO question.

NICAP continued to exist into the early 1980s, when it was disbanded. Its files were eventually turned over to the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies. Keyhoe, who had resigned as chairman of NICAP, retired to his home in Virginia and wrote his last book, Aliens from Space (1973), in which he targets the CIA rather than the air force as the source of the government's UFO coverup. He also endorses a plan to entice alien craft to land at an isolated air strip decorated with unusual and novel displays.

Sources:

Clark, Jerome. The Emergence of a Phenomenon: UFOs from the Beginning through 1959. Vol. 2 of The UFO Encyclopedia. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.

Hall, Richard H. The UFO Evidence. Washington, DC: National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, 1964.

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975.

Keyhoe, Donald E. Aliens from Space: The Real Story of Unidentified Flying Objects. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973.

. The Flying Saucer Conspiracy. New York: Henry Holt, 1955.

. The Flying Saucers Are Real. New York: Fawcett Publications, 1950.

. Flying Saucers from Outer Space. New York: Henry Holt, 1953.

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