Colorado's Stan Romanek claims to have been abducted by aliens multiple times, and his experiences have garnered more attention than any other modern-day case of alleged E.T. encounters. But is he telling the truth, or is it all an elaborate hoax?
Given its hokey name, one might expect the UFOlympics to resemble a Star Trek or Star Wars convention—an eclectic group of people dressed in costumes, speaking Klingon, and invoking the Force. When I attended the conference last year, however, I found serious, levelheaded people—teachers, scientists, former airline pilots, ex-military, businesspersons—with a passionate and objective interest in UFOs. The conference is structured around a series of talks inside a building built expressly for the purpose; sessions had titles like "Colorado Ufology: Updates from 2006-2007," "Revisiting Roswell," and "Exopolitics: The Political Implications of Extraterrestrial Presence." During breaks between sessions, and before and after the start of each day's events, people splintered into smaller groups, talking about their varied personal experiences.
The nature of the encounters and sightings vary—strange lights, flying saucers, flight patterns that defy the capability of conventional modern-day aircraft—but they all point to one inevitable, off-putting fact: From the plains to the Front Range to the Western Slope, Coloradans are seeing weird things in the Rocky Mountain sky.
It wasn't Romanek's experience or UFOlympics, though, that put Colorado on the national and international UFO map. Rather, it was one very high-profile and controversial study, officially titled the "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects," (also known as the Colorado Project or the Condon Report) that put the Centennial State squarely at the center of the debate over UFOs and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
Starting in 1947, the United States Air Force received more than 10,000 reports of UFOs. By 1966, the federal government and the Air Force considered the sightings too numerous, too credible, and too serious to ignore. The Air Force awarded the University of Colorado at Boulder a contract to study UFOs from November 1966 through January 1968 in what would become the most well-known systematic and scientific study of UFOs ever conducted. Researchers analyzed eyewitness testimony, radar data, photographic evidence, and other physical evidence in an exhaustive report that totaled nearly 1,500 pages. Edward Condon, a CU physics professor and the project director in charge of the team of researchers, wrote the conclusion to the report, and dismissed the entire phenomenon with a single, damning sentence: "Careful consideration of the record...leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified."
When the study was released, people who believed in UFOs—or at least thought there was ample evidence that warranted further study—cried foul. These "believers" argued that Condon had warped or disregarded information and drawn inaccurate conclusions. The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena—a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to the scientific study of UFOs, later absorbed into the Center for UFO Studies—published its own evisceration of the report, which highlighted glaring discrepancies between its content and recommendations.
Not surprisingly, since the report's publication in 1968, UFO sightings—in Colorado, as elsewhere—have continued unabated. Meanwhile, public opinion is shifting: The television series UFO Hunters airs on the History Channel, not the SciFi Channel. (The SciFi Channel now has its own reality show with the same name.) A 2002 Roper poll commissioned by the SciFi Channel found that 67 percent of Americans believe intelligent beings exist elsewhere in the universe, 56 percent believe that UFOs are real, and one in five believe that humans have been abducted by aliens. Whether one believes him or not, no one has been more polarizing—and no one has provided more evidence to true believers and skeptics alike—than Stan Romanek.
Ten days after his first alien encounter, Stan Romanek was driving south on Estes Street through Lakewood, en route to a park where he was meeting friends for an evening of stargazing, when the mysterious blinking light once again appeared in the sky over his van. This time, Romanek and a few others weren't the only ones to see it: Over the course of that evening, at least 50 people in Lakewood, and likely many more, saw the UFO.