Early in Ronald Reagan’s second term, he asked his Soviet counterpart a seemingly off-the-wall question. Ostensibly, he and Mikhail Gorbachev had come to Lake Geneva for an arms control summit. But on a private walk around the lake, Reagan turned to his Cold War enemy and said:

‘What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?’” Gorbachev later recounted. “I said, ‘No doubt about it.’ He said, ‘We too.’ So that’s interesting.”

To the U.S. president, the question was an opportunity to recognize a shared desire to protect humanity on Earth, a species that might very well succumb to the horrors of nuclear war. But his reference to aliens as a possible shared enemy wasn’t as random as it might sound. Reagan was a lifelong fan of science fiction and he’d had an encounter with a UFO while riding in plane in the 1970s.

Reagan, it turns out, wasn’t the only president who has had a more than passing interest in the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

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