Pioneering astronaut Gordon Cooper denies being the first astronaut to see a UFO while in orbit, but stands by his reports of a strange encounter over Germany in the 1950s.
Cooper flatly denied the long-standing claim, repeated over the years by various authors including UFOlogical saints Allen Hynek and Jacques Valley, that he saw a greenish object with a red tail move past his Mercury 9 spacecraft in 1963.
"No, somebody made a lot of money selling … lies on that one," Cooper, the sixth American in space, told Art Bell on the syndicated "Coast to Coast" talk radio show Thursday night. "It was totally untrue, sorry to say."
However, the retired air force colonel, who once lectured the United Nations on the reality of UFOs, still holds an "unshakable" belief in extraterrestrial intelligence, thanks largely to personal experience.
"On one occasion, I saw some strange vehicles that we assumed were UFOs," he told Bell.
In the encounter, which took place over Germany in the early 1950s, Cooper saw "flights of fighters flying by in the same sort of formation we flew, moving east to west." The U.S. Air Force base scrambled its own pilots, including Cooper, who remembers the objects as looking "just like saucers -- they were metallic looking, but we couldn't really get close enough to see more than that. You couldn't see any wings on them."
At the time, Cooper entertained the possibility that the craft might be a new Soviet design, but "looking back now," he suspects "it was some kind of extraterrestrial vehicle."
He also stood by his belief that he saw a UFO land at Edwards Air Force Base in California in 1957. Although Cooper had been filming the base with a camera crew at the time, the film, which he handed over to a high-ranking officer from Washington, has never emerged.
Area 51 and the lost Gemini photographs
After another round of filming --- this time in orbit aboard Gemini 5 -- Cooper ran into trouble with the authorities when they confiscated film he took from space. However, in contrast to UFO legend, this film did not contain photographic proof of an alien encounter.
Instead, he had ran afoul of the authorities for taking pictures of the "top secret" Nevada military base known familiarly as "Area 51".
"I found out fairly recently that one of the reasons it got confiscated was I had inadvertently … overflown Area 51," while taking test photos, he said.