An Interview with John F. Schuessler, Executive Director of MUFON (Mutual UFO Network)

by rthieme on November 4, 2000

An Interview with John F. Schuessler, Executive Director of MUFON (Mutual UFO Network)

I began with the human space flight program in 1962 at the end of the Mercury program and retired because of the Gemini program. I went into design of the environmental control system and became responsible for the ECS on the Gemini for all the equipment. I went from there to the SkyLab program and did the same thing on a much larger scale. Then I moved to Houston when McDonnell Douglas won the support contract for the space shuttle flight operations, that was before the space shuttle flew, and worked in the flight operations division at JSC  – we helped write the procedures and plans that helped get the shuttle flying. Then worked with that job as project manager for flight operations until 1983 when I became director of engineering for McDonnell Douglas. In 1987 I worked on proposals for the new space station Freedom. We won that contract. Then went from there into general management, responsible for general operations in Houston for the company, including security, business management, human resources, and other functions. Later in the early 90s I was put in charge of building the new neutral buoyancy facility for NASA – the largest swimming pool in the world – for training astronauts. Then I worked a large robot training project until I retired in 1998. Before being director of MUFON, I had a year or so break doing other things – consulting in aerospace, I’m in the space tourism society and want to get people into space. We’ve got to get launch costs down and get lots of people up there – I’m not working with Buzz Aldrin, working with John Spencer in the Space Tourism Society, with Bigalow Aerospace, and a few others, BG Enterprises in Houston and consulting with several different groups just to get things going.

RT: What originally got you, not just interested, but was there a singular experience, something that really quickened your interest?

My work in the Gemini program is what really stimulated me into the UFO field. When they launched the first Gemini which was unmanned they were shown on radar two objects that followed Gemini on the first orbit. Our structural people were really upset because they thought maybe it had broken up or something. On the second orbit, they was gone. There was a lot of chatter about that, nothing official, but a lot of chatter, and I thought, that’s pretty interesting. What could that be?

Later on, a couple or three times flights where we actually had people up there, they reported seeing things. McDivitt actually photographed something and later the photographs shown weren’t what he said he saw. Several others reported seeing things. They didn’t see “flying saucers,” they saw objects in space. But it was still enough – these are people, I worked very hard on life support systems to keep them alive and when they said something, I believed it. I didn’t question it at all. That stimulated me to go out and start looking. It wasn’t long before – I met Walt Andrus by accident. (personal details). He got me to join APRO, for a short time I was a consultant with APRO, it wasn’t working out in the Midwest and he and I pushed for the Midwest support network and that’s how we became founding members of MUFON. Alan Utke was first international director.

McDivitt said he saw this red object that went across his viewscreen and he took pictures of it but the pictures he got were not of an oblong object like he saw but of something else. I think he felt he was deceived slightly, I can’t put words in his mouth …

RT: like Roswell, people who saw the debris said that isn’t what we saw …

And other people put words in your mouth. Jim Oberg’s been really good at putting words in McDivitt’s mouth and even called him “a bleary-eyed astronaut” like he couldn’t see anything which was a bunch of baloney. He would not have been flying if he couldn’t see.

RT: ridicule is uniformly effective.

It really is. That’s one thing the media likes is those kind of things. They don’t have to be factual. Nobody cares.

RT: other astronauts reported sightings – Deke Slayton.

That’s correct. Yes, he described it as a disc. It’s in his book. And Gordon Cooper is very outspoken, very much so. I take it more or less at face value. I have a natural skepticism from working in the space business and I don’t accept everything anybody says. I don’t discard anything out of hand either. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make in this field is discarding things out of hand because it doesn’t fit your paradigm or it’s not pleasing or could be embarrassing. That’s a real mistake.  I think the debunkers have done a great service in this line – they’ve gotten UFOlogists trying to be debunkers first rather than investigators first. They want to beat them to the draw which is stupid.

RT: Paul Hill’s book (Unconventional Flying Objects) – sane and refreshing, taking data at face value.

Paul was exactly right in that [approach]. His daughter brought the ms to symposiums and talked to Bob Wood and myself and Wood helped her get it published.

RT: would like it in the mainstream …

We just keep chipping away at it.

RT: You wrote a book about the Cash-Landrum incident. What opinion do you currently hold about the case?

Being a futurist, one way I evaluate things is to come up with series of scenarios and then I try to refine each scenario down to its point of diminishing returns and when I did that – the way I did that was gather a group of local MUFON people in Houston together and brainstorm during the investigation various scenarios. We went out and gathered data which we then used to accept or reject the various scenarios. It wasn’t just myself but a number of people with various backgrounds, several of them from the space program who I can’t name who are part of the Invisible College. One of them is a flight director for the Space Shuttle right now. In our scenario work, we asked how could these people have faked this? and we ran that out every possible way and concluded that they did not fake it. Then we asked could this be a government device of some kind?

RT: All those helicopters.

The helicopters weren’t there initially but they came in. It looked like something was carrying it with the helicopter The object was there several minutes before the helicopters arrived. We even had people five miles away  talking about the helicopters staged across their property and then flying in that direction after hovering for a few minutes, so it was like they came in waves and that’s exactly what was reported by people at the site, not only Cash and Landrum but other people who were around there.

So we concluded from that that there was a structured flying device. How could we conclude that if we didn’t have any evidence? Well, the evidence was multifold. Eyewitness, first of all, connected and disconnected eyewitnesses. Second, we had the effects on the highway underneath it where the blacktop was actually melted to the point that the yellow line was actually swirled, the no-passing line. Third, we had burns on the trees on both sides of the road which would indicate the heating the people had. Then there were effects, very unusual effects,  on the car. And of course the best – or the worst scenario, the best evidence, was the medical effects on the people themselves. They could

tell what they saw, when they saw it, how they reacted, and what were the effects that developed over time. We had medical doctors of numerous backgrounds attesting to what they described, and their eventual cancer and the hair loss and all the things that happened. So we had a variety of evidence testifying to something real flying in there and being there. When we got to that point, we were convinced that this is not just a scenario any more, this is a fact.

Then we went from that fact to – we started getting leads from people like Bill Moore that this may have been a device that flew from Los Alamos to Ellington Field which didn’t pan out at all. Ellington Field was in the process of becoming a public airport. There was no evidence between the two sites that anything had flown across. IN fact, the evidence from the case was that the object came from the eats, not the west. We tracked it across a number of sightings, a number of towns, east of Houston clear over to the Louisiana line. When it left, it went in a southerly direction toward the Gulf of  Mexico.

Then we began putting together other scenarios. Could it have been a misidentified special lighting arrangement platform used for a raid on something or could it have been an atomic device that went out of control. Could it have been an alien craft flown by humans who just screwed up. The last one in particular remained a scenario and a lot of people claimed on the Internet that that was the case but none of them any evidence there was zero evidence. With zero evidence you don’t accept it.

So our conclusion after a long time of looking at the technology and how technology unfolds … I follow it very closely even to this day, and the way you follow technology, you don’t just follow what’s written on paper or in magazines you follow even the ads where companies and building equipment or pieces of equipment and see if that could be used in an advanced craft, and in fact that’s how a lot of information on the stealth got out , form advertisers. We could find nothing that would go together. Even flight controllers from NASA and others were working with us and there was no evidence of a machine that the US government had built in 1980 that could  do anything like this or fly like this let alone the sheer size of it. It was as big as a water tower in the tower of Dayton, that’s a nine foot tower. If it’s half that big, it’s still big for something without wings to fly.

We looked at what kind of saucer-type stuff that we have seen. There isn’t a flying program for saucers, the best we did was the AVRO disc which is a ground effects craft. We looked at well, if this was cigar-shaped that was upended and just looked diamond shaped, then what kind of cigar-shaped objects do we fly? We don’t have any except missiles and they don’t fly around, they go where we send them. Nothing panned out in our technology base that duplicates it. So some people say, let’s reject it out of hand, it couldn’t be true because we don’t have anything like that, and that’s as bad as saying it’s extraterrestrial without evidence. So to this day we have to leave it in the unidentified category like many of the Blue Book Bases, but we are convinced that it was solid physically real, it was there, and it did all the things they said it did.

RT: in other words, a physical machine with observable effects that you don’t think we can replicate by known technologies….

That’s exactly correct and that’s where we are on this case.

What has happened there is, there has been a lot of argument about the extraterrestrial hypothesis on a lot of cases and they say it’s impossible because they can’t get here from there, which is trying to use 20th century technology to explain maybe 23rd century activities or beyond. Look at the breakthroughs we have made in the last five years in science and technology, we are rushing in the direction of doing some of the things we have seen UFOs do. We’re not there yet, but rejecting the ETH out of hand is as dangerous as anything else. To say you can’t fly past the speed of light is as naive as saying we can’t land on the moon because you’ll sink out of sight or fly planes across the ocean because planes will never –

RT: The novel by Arthur C. Clarke.

Right. Some of the leading scientists were convinced we would sink into the moon dust.

RT:  The questions change over time. What are the questions you think are most relevant now, after fifty years of data? If there has been surveillance, what is the intention? What questions do you ask?

Trying to fix an intention to something that may not have the same kind of rational thought we do is a waste of time. Obviously it’s not a take-over mindset., Nobody has come in and blown us away and tried to take us over like Independence Day. In fact, UFOs have been seen for years doing the avoidance thing. Even in Ruppelt’s book, one came in on radar and skirted the edge of the radar pattern so they expanded the pattern and it went out around that pattern as well. The only wild card is, where do the abductions fit it? That’s another whole story.

RT: Is the phenomena benign? E.g. Cash-Landrum seeming indifference to kind of injuries they caused. I referred to the policeman in Elmwood WI who answered the call of the policeman who died later in the hospital.

I would like to know about that. I have collected personal injury cases and never had that one. That would slant my thinking on the next thing that comes along. You use each of these things as a learning experience to approach the next one. That’s what Cash-Landrum was for me, a learning experience in all facets, including dealing with the government.

RT: What’s your evaluation of the government’s role? re: Ed Mitchell’s story about the cover-up. What do you think?

I tend to agree with that. During my whole career I made no bones about my interests and kept it separate from my work, which was the only was to survive. I only stepped over the line a few times and I got told. I am sure there is an organization that handles this and I don’t think it’s the normal organizations you would expect, not some PR officer in the Army. I believe it’s a multi-organizational unit that draws people in form various places. You’re aware of compartmentalization. If you don’t have a need to know, you don’t know, and even if you’re working in a program, you’re only told the parts you need to know to get the job done. Anybody who says “I contacted this division of the government and they didn’t know anything” is naive. If course they didn’t know anything. They’re authorized to lie or whatever it takes not to expose it. That’s a necessary way of life.

With the devices they have now to collect and compartmentalize data, it’s even easier for them, because there’s no paper. You used to be able to go after paper. Even in the older ones, people say there could not have been a program like that because there is no paperwork in the file, and that’s baloney too because in programs that were of a very high classification where it was “eyes only” the paperwork was destroyed. In fact, I worked a program listed as Top Secret when I was in the Navy and there has never been any information about what we did because when we finished we destroyed it all. I mean, 100% was destroyed. We didn’t think anything about it, we were done.

RT: How is organizational memory maintained?

It’s maintained by whoever is in charge of this, they do maintain what they need. I don’t believe it’s like we collect UFOs report and keep it in the files forever. My expectation would be that they keep only what they need to do their job and the rest of it is destroyed. Whatever there job is, they do a good job. If there job is to keep it quiet, they do diversions, set up straw men for people to poke at, and it seems to work very well.

RT: What is your sense of what that organization is about at this point? What is its current intention, focus?

I believe it’s multi-national, spans governments and politics, the sort of thing that has kept the world running. In the banking world, for instance, in spite of all the political and physical barriers, the organizations still run outside of that. There was apparent cooperation between us and Russia during the Cold War on UFOs, it has been reported in several other countries but not much in this country because nobody believes it, and the smaller countries seem to tow the line when something happens, they contact the US Embassy and the State Department and the material goes there, you can see that on many of the FOIA released data coming from embassies released in the last fifty years. It shows that there is an assumed leader and a lot of people assume that’s where it should go and just send it and don’t question it and at some level, someone knows why and where it goes and handles it. It doesn’t take a huge organization to do that, in fact, you don’t want a huge organization. You use everybody else’s organization – if you want something done at the scene you use some other organizations aircraft or helicopters, somebody else’s radar. When you look back at the nuclear emergency survival team in S-group, when they were structured, when something would happen they had people in different parts of the country and they who would commandeer different local units’ aircraft, that was the plan. Other groups have been the same way. The resources that are available but you don’t need to own the resources.

RT: But you must have the authority to use them, which is recognized and acknowledged.

Yes, but the military mindset is such that when you are given an order, you do it, and you don’t have to have paper for that, if you’re given the right kind of order. So you don’t get in trouble with paper floating around.

RT: Which makes it very difficult to establish what exactly is going on

Let me play you a different scenario. One of my interests is future technology and as a result I keep looking at what we have now and the trends and where they may be going.

The curves are all swinging upward fairly rapidly. So we look at what we know about the technology we are using for surveillance, just the USA, not other countries, what we do and what we know and the kind of surveillance we can do. There is no doubt in my mind that today if not many times over the past fifty years we have had the surveillance capabilities to completely monitor the activities of certain UFO flights –and know exactly when they’re going, where they’re going, how they’re going, where they appear form and leave to, all the characteristics about them – we have radar based devices that will not only show the distance, direction and azimuth of an object and all that but will also how shape. We have devices the army has developed for tracking projectiles – they check the acoustic wave and when something crosses over they can immediately track that data and go back to the source. That’s how they track where a mortar is or a howitzer. We can use that same technology – and its portable – for tracking UFOs.

I don’t believe any of these things fly over our country today without being known and if somebody wanted the UFO mystery to completely disappear they could in five minutes release enough data to show exactly what’s going on and is not going on.

That means (1) somebody knows and we don’t know. (2) Somebody monitors and we can’t tap into it. So we as little peon citizens at the mercy of when this happens and nobody is going to tell us. That’s the way Cash and Landrum happened. They were throw-down targets essentially. It happened. Well, tough. They’re expendable. Nobody cared a bit to help them. The stakes were too high to bother to help these people. That alone was an eye-opener to me when that happened. I thought there was more compassion that that in the way things were done but there obviously isn’t. Of course I knew from the work I had done – well, I was responsible for security in Houston, for instance, in our company,  and I know that security is first and everything else is second. It didn’t matter what anybody thought, felt or what happened to them, it didn’t matter, the first thing was to protect the data. That is happening on a bigger scale.

So this is happening, and when it happens, somebody knows. There is a fan-shaped array that goes across the United States that tracks every object that crosses over the United States. Right now. So when you say a YFO came from or went a certain direction, there has to be data on that. And we know that NORAD has said for years that they have had uncorrelated targets, they have not hidden that, there have been several Congressmen that have tried to get them to release uncorrelated target data to UFO organizations or research centers and that was denied. They are still having uncorrelated targets only with a lot better equipment. Just this week I read about a new IBM computer that is being installed in the Maui Deep Space Surveillance System to track more rapidly all unknowns in space. That alone will capture all kinds of UFO data but it is not going to be released That system is totally secret, but that system is not new, it has been around a long time. In 1973 when we lost the SkyLab, we lost a solar panel on launch and we asked DOD to use the equipment they had in the southwest to check on the SkyLab to tell us what we needed to do to fix it. They could not give us the photographic data because it was classified – in terms of how much they could see – but they did relay enough information so we knew what kind of equipment we needed to take up and fix the thing. At that time there was the claim that they could see a baseball in orbit, and they’ve added to the optical and infrared and other things to it. So where does this take us? It takes us to, there is a database out there that contains all this information and they do not see fit to release it to the public.

RT: So the focus has shifted from, how do we find out? to how do we get information into the public domain?

I go further than that in my thinking. My thinking has led to this: we as a civilian UFO group or civilian think tanks like NIDS and others, we do have capabilities to do things that the government entities can’t do because of potential embarrassment or exposure and it would be very simple to start small with some entity of the US government and share that kind of related information. You don’t have to expose the latest technology to do that. That’s always been the excuse, “If we tell you what we saw that exposes the technology.” That’s to the point of being ludicrous. The basic technology is known by people who want to know it; the general public doesn’t care. The people who are interested know how these devices work.

That story doesn’t hold anymore. In the Kurst accident, we were surveilling the Kurst’s activities, and we recorded the data of the explosions and handed it over to Russia. If we can hand over sensitive data from tracking nuclear submarines to the Russians, why can’t we hand over data on UFOs to the American public? We’re not protecting “sources and methods” if we’re handing it to the other side. So I hope that we at MUFON can establish a better relationship with everyone out there and not be a pit bull. We have lots of consultants and investigators with military backgrounds that are good people and could do a lot. A data stream from NORAD on uncorrelated targets doesn’t anything to anybody and it sure would help us in this cause.

I would like to enable more of our consultants for doing what they can do. We don’t call people in to do work unless they have some capability that they bring to the task. We have to evolve as an organization beyond just being a grass roots organization.

One impediment we have in the UFO field is the very ploys that people have. One is the debunking ploy. Another is the ego ploy where I must be wrong and you wrong when neither of us have the answer. It becomes a cause to be right or wrong rather than to look at the data.

RT: What about [Col Philip J.] Corso and his book [The Day After Roswell]?

My evaluation is based on much more than the book. It’s based on knowing individuals who actually knew Corso and it’s based on what he said rather than what’s in the book. The basic premise is what he said but a lot of details were put in by [co-author William J.] Birnes and I don’t trust any of that second stuff made to sell books. That’s why I self-published the Cash-Landrum book. I had a couple of opportunities with major publishers but they wanted to add somebody to it that would put sensational stuff in it and I thought the case was sensational enough without it. I promised the people I would only tell the facts. Re: the web site, it will just be frustrating because egos have taken over and people want to shoot it down or accept it without question.

What he really said is quite a reasonable hypothesis. When you get into technology that you find, and the steps by which it was released … just because someone actually did the work on it does not mean it wasn’t stimulated from something or somewhere else. If you look at a lot of technologies that we have today, they suddenly sprang up in multiple places in the world at the same time, they did not just come out of one person’s mind. Now, somebody seeded that.

One of my other sidelines is, I’m a member of the Advanced Deep Space Transport Group, an ad hoc group of people that work together looking at future technologies that it will take to do things beyond what NASA is looking at today. All of these things are part of our agenda – we’re looking at information from everywhere, not just one or two sources, and every one of these things is springing up at multiple sites. Every one of them.

RT: What are the questions that ought to be asked now? And who should I be asking?

I think the most relevant questions at this point are, how do we tap into all the technology that is available when we’re doing UFO investigations? We’re still using Geiger Counters and hand-held cameras and things of that nature when the technology has gone on decades ahead of that. We need to change how we investigate and collect data. The second question is, how we develop a better rapport in the world environment so we are not closing out sources of data because of predetermined prejudices about this or that guy or government, so I won’t look at their data. We need to see what’s right and pursue those avenues. You learn from every experience. You don’t have to accept everything you hear but you have to be open to listen. One of our weaknesses is, we’re not open to listening.

RT: Robert M. Galvin of Motorola said breakthrough ideas are always a minority opinion.

I was responsible for two or three breakthroughs in the space program that went exactly that way. One was the regenerative carbon monoxide removal system on the SkyLab. We knew we could …

… the full nine months and it worked perfectly but they still didn’t believe it. Afterwards that technology was generally accepted I could name several others that worked exactly the same way, and that’s exactly what happens, it starts as a minority opinion.

RT: You just have to keep coming without defensiveness and not flag in your efforts.

Never give up. And that’s what we have to do in the UFO game. People get tired and give up or get threatened out. Some researchers in MUFON have giving it up because of the religious convictions of his daughter, a real power house but he wants to see the grand kids.

NIDS is a good professional group – most of them are just as mystified as you and I and they’re searching for answers. Some of them came out of significant agencies but they get the runaround too. When they go back, they’re cut off at the pass. They’re given the idiot treatment or a story they know in their gut is not true. Someone asked Ed Mitchell, you ought to hear more from NASA, he said I don’t hear anything from NASA anymore. They don’t tell him anything.

Over the years there have been stops along the way, I’ve gotten disillusioned or tired, but every time something came along that stimulated my interest so much it would overcome that. Some folks don’t reach that next point of overcoming and drop out and I hate to lose people who have the capabilities.

November 2000

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