STS-115, when NASA said: we see a UFO
How many times have you heard reports of alleged sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs), punctually denied?
And how many times the NASA has specified that the showy trails, the mysterious lights, the UFOs, were none other than their own launches, or probe balls, or spatial debris?
Well, there is an opportunity at least when even NASA, officially, had to admit that there was something that was not able to identify, a UFO precisely.
Sts-115, not just a routinely mission
It was the 19 September 2006, during the eleventh day of the mission STS-115, not just a routinely mission, but the one with which, after two precedents “test missions” the Space Shuttle (in the specific case it was Atlantis) resumed the construction of the International space station (ISS).
Sts-115, a UFO followed Atlantis
That day astronaut Brent Jett, mission commander, and Christopher Ferguson, pilot, had verified the reliability of the engines in view of the return scheduled for the following day.
After some additional routine activities, the astronauts were contacted by the Mission Control who informed them that a UFO had been seen to accompany the Atlantis along its orbit.
At that point, the astronauts tried to record the UFO from the Shuttle using a digital video camera on board, but the resolution was not high enough to identify the object.
Fearing that it might be one of the ceramic tiles in the space shuttle's heat shield or a metal sheet, Mission Control requested an additional inspection of the heat shield through the use of the robotic arm of which the shuttle was equipped and preferred to carry out further tests during the twelfth day of the mission, delaying the return 24 hours.
Everything went well and probably the episode would have been forgotten, if it were not for an episode nothing short of disturbing occurred during the press conference of the crew following the return of the Shuttle to the ground.
The astronauts saw something never seen before
In fact, during the press conference, the US astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, mission specialist, who had also carried out during the same mission a 13 hours 8 minutes “spacewalk” (and who later took part in the STS-126 mission where he carried out another three spacewalks), explained to “have seen something that we had never seen before, when I opened the door it was still out there".
"I believe that what happened would not have occurred without complete preparation and training of the crew” added the astronaut who then tried to continue his description of this unexpected meeting but because of a post-traumatic syndrome due to stress was in danger of fainting and had to abandon the press conference to be subjected to medical tests.
If the sighting of the 19 September 2006 has exceptional characteristics in itself, no less surprising is the fact that an experienced astronaut is certainly used to working under pressure, as evidenced by the activities entrusted to her two years later in the STS-126 mission, was so impressed by what she saw that she could not literally tell the details. What did the Atlantis astronauts really see over ten years ago?