- In the world of Ufology, it's tough to be taken seriously.
- "There'll be a sighting somewhere, and it'll be
a fantastic sighting," says Mike Curta, state director of the Colorado
Chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). "Five hundred people saw
it, and there'll be an interview with a doctor, and they'll talk to the
local fire chief, and they'll always put in a woman in a muumuu with curlers
in her hair and missing three-quarters of her teeth, and she'll say how
she's been abducted 27 times and that the last time they let her pilot
the craft to Jupiter and back. And that blows the credibility. It seems
like a losing battle."
- But establishing credibility and rapport -- particularly
with the FAA, the Air Force and NORAD -- is high on the agenda for Curta
and for MUFON's recently appointed international director, John Schuessler,
who hopes that moving the group's headquarters from tiny Seguin, Texas,
to the Denver area will help.
- A founding member of MUFON, Schuessler is a mechanical
engineer and the former director of engineering for McDonnell Douglas in
Houston. He was responsible for designing the life-support systems on the
Gemini spacecraft, and he worked on the space shuttle program and on the
design of the not-yet-completed international space station before his
retirement two years ago. He's about as far from a muumuu-clad space abductee
as one can imagine.
- Schuessler, who now lives in Littleton, became interested
in UFOs in the mid-'60s while working on the Gemini Missions, which used
two-man capsules to test long-duration flights, docking techniques and
space walking. "I heard reports from astronauts who'd seen things,
and they didn't know what they were -- cylindrical-shaped things passing
by the spacecraft at some distance. There was something up there that we
didn't put up there that they didn't understand. It was really tough to
build spacecraft in those days, and if they'd seen something...it really
pushed my interest. So I began looking into it, and the more I looked,
the more I found."
- In 1969, Schuessler -- who was based in St. Louis at
the time -- teamed up with other UFO enthusiasts to form what was then
called the Midwest UFO Network. The first di-rector was a chemistry professor
at Wisconsin State University in Oshkosh. He was followed by Walt Andrus,
who worked as a consumer-products manager for Motorola. Under their leadership,
MUFON grew to include a magazine, Skylook, and as many as 5,000 members.
(Its roster is now down to 3,000, Andrus says, a fact he attributes to
competition from the Internet and other magazines.)
- Since the beginning, MUFON members have devoted themselves
to the scientific research of UFO phenomena. They sponsor international
symposiums presided over by scientists, engineers and university professors.
They teach their members how to document sightings and how to investigate
sighting reports, and they're aided in their investigations by a board
whose members represent 45 areas of science and technology.
- Andrus, who is 79, took over as director in 1970 and
moved MUFON headquarters to Seguin five years later; the group opened the
MUFON museum there in 1994 in a strip-mall storefront.
- With 500 square feet of memorabilia, the museum's collection
includes photos of UFOs and other phenomena such as crop circles; an art
exhibit of drawings and paintings of aliens created by people who say they've
seen the visitors; life-sized alien models; and assorted space debris from
the days of the U.S./U.S.S.R. space race. The museum also contains a library
of UFO- and space-related books, as well as a catalogue of sightings reports.
- And it could all be in the Denver area as soon as next
- The museum hasn't been a big draw in Seguin, says Andrus,
in part because of the town's location --about twenty miles northeast of
San Antonio -- and because it's usually closed during the school year.
- Andrus, who stepped down as international director earlier
this month, developed his interest in UFOs in 1948 when he spotted four
unidentified objects flying over downtown Phoenix. It's a story he relates
with precision, fit for the pages of MUFON's own Field Investigator's Manual.
"It was one in the afternoon," he says. "A perfectly blue
sky. A typical August day in Phoenix -- 117 degrees. There were four objects
flying in formation. They looked like silver balloons. I saw the first
one in the northeast sky. It moved slowly west. It was a dull aluminum
color and didn't reflect the sunlight. The first one simply disappeared,
like someone had stuck a pin in the balloon. Then the second disappeared,
then the third, and eventually the straggler disappeared."
- Unfortunately -- or perhaps fortunately -- the vast majority
of sightings MUFON investigates aren't considered UFOs. "We get somewhere
between 50,000 to 80,000 reports from some kind of official organization
every year," Curta says. "It might be a police department, or
SETI [Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence] folks in North Carolina.
Of those reports, 90 percent can be explained as normal, everyday -- a
planet, an airplane, a meteorite. Just slightly over 1 percent are found
to be hoaxes. The other 8 or 9 percent go unexplained. Those are the ones
we take a serious interest in."
- Colorado is considered a hotbed of UFO activity. "Generally
we get, I would say, a call a week out of the San Luis Valley. Cattle mutilations,
too," Curta says. "They dropped off the last couple years, but
we've had more in the last couple weeks than in the last year all together.
Why, nobody seems to know. The San Luis Valley is just a strange place,
anyway. The newspaper in Salida had an article in 1894 about a bunch of
town residents who saw a cigar-shaped object hanging over the city. We
still get a lot of that today."
- The sightings that can be classified as UFOs are dissected
by as many volunteer/ experts as MUFON can round up. Copies of the photos
are sent to MUFON headquarters and may appear in the museum. The organization
also maintains a UFO hotline and distributes "What to Do If You See
a UFO" lists. ("The number one thing to remember is REMAIN CALM!"
one reads.) Its Web site contains detailed UFO-sighting report forms asking
for information such as environmental factors, terrain and elevation, and
providing space for sketches.
- "I'm very much a skeptic and a cynic," Curta
says. "I take it all with a grain of salt. No doubt there is something
going on, but what it is, I wouldn't venture to guess."
- John Schuessler has never even seen a UFO. "I'm
not a sighter," he says. "I keep going where people see things,
and I never get there in time."
- For now, though, he's watching the real estate ads, not
the sky, trying to find office/display space for the headquarters and museum.
He's hoping to find something in southwest Denver, preferably with a storefront
so MUFON can show off some of the museum's artifacts. With luck, the museum,
which will be free and open to the public, will be unveiled by the end
of the year. (For updates, check MUFON's Colorado Web site at comufon.org.)
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