Spooky Skies

Just in time for Halloween, a collection of aviation mysteries

Spiders at 30,000 Feet: A Louise Bourgeouis sculpture outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. (Brian Colson)

The Reluctant UFO Expert


You spend years training to become an astronaut and what happens? You become labeled “a world-renowned UFO expert.” Here’s how it came to pass: During the 1965 Gemini IV mission, astronaut James McDivitt glanced out the window of the spacecraft, and saw something white, shaped like a beer can with a pencil sticking out of it. He was able to quickly take two pictures before the spacecraft rotated away from the object.

McDivitt had no idea of the object’s scale; “it could’ve been the size of the Empire State Building for all I knew,” he said in a 1999 oral history conducted by Doug Ward. But he theorized it was probably a piece of ice that had fallen off the spacecraft, or perhaps a piece of detached Mylar.

No objects showed up in the printed photographs (McDivitt hadn’t had time to focus the camera). But when the EVA film was developed, the technician “picked out one that looked like a bunch of spacecraft…. They were disc-shaped things with a tail. I think there were three or four of them in an echelon formation.”

But when McDivitt looked at the photograph, he realized it wasn’t a spacecraft at all. “[It] was a reflection of the bolts in the windows,” he recalls. “The windows were made up of about three or four or five panes of glass, so that if one got broken we still had some pressure integrity. And these little things, when the Sun shined on them right, they’d multiply the images off the different panes. And I’m quite sure that that’s what this thing was. But anyway, I became a world-renowned expert in UFOs. Unfortunately.”

Photo: Jim McDivitt (right) and Ed White with a model of their Gemini capsule.


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