Fifty years ago today, the U.S. Air Force announced the closing of its most famous UFO investigation program, Project Blue Book. While the government’s goal was to “make UFOs go away,” it forced a community to take matters into its own hands. And it worked: If the events of this year alone are any indication, UFOs remain as hot of a topic in the general conscience than ever. But we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Blue Book.

In 1947, due to a string of “flying saucer sightings,” the Air Force began its campaign to understand the UFO phenomenon. Quietly, it put together a project, known as Sign, to investigate reports of UFOs. According to some researchers, one of Sign’s alleged final reports, commonly known as the “Estimate of the Situation,” openly favored the notion that flying saucers were extraterrestrial in origin.

While the report has never been released to the public, and is probably more mythological than real, many within UFO circles believe that Sign’s closure and replacement with the short-lived Project Grudge in 1949 attempted to engage in the active debunking of UFO incidents. The Air Force also eventually shut Grudge down in 1951, declaring that UFOs were hoaxes and misidentification—yet admitted that roughly 23 percent of the cases it investigated were unexplainable.

In 1952, the Air Force initiated its final UFO investigation, the now-famous Project Blue Book. Initially led by Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, in nearly two decades, it collected between 12,000 and 15,000 cases and was designed to be a fair and honest look at the UFO situation, succeeding where Sign and Grudge had failed. But while initial intentions may have been good, the project quickly went bad.

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