This article was published in the daily newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, on June 8, 2004.
SPACE. THE RARE AEROSPACE PHENOMENA EXPERTISE SERVICE (SEPRA), BASED AT THE NATIONAL CENTER DOR SPACE STUDIES (CNES) IN TOULOUSE, HAS BEEN CLOSED. WHILE IT DOES NOT APPEAR IN THE NEW CNES ORGCHART, ACTIVITY IS CONTINUED.
UFOs: minimal service
While erasing SEPRA (service of expertise on the rare aerospace phenomena) from its flow chart, the National Center for Space Studies (CNES) of Toulouse, which recalls that its primary vocation "is to carry out the space policy of France", paradoxically became more down to earth.
The service - at the origin, Group for the Study of the Unidentified Space Phenomena (GEPAN) during its creation in 1977 - was devoted mainly to the study of the unidentified flying objects, counting and analyzing testimonys of the hundreds of people who saw, or believed to see, an unexplained phenomenon.
The CNES did not justify its decision, evoking "a simple reorganization of the services". Actually, SEPRA made the expenses of the budgetary restrictions which have touched the space agency a few months ago. Nevertheless, the UFO research activity is not stopped. It will continue, "but in another form", it was specified. Its emblematic director, Jean-Jacques Velasco, a recognized scientist dubbed "France's Mr. UFO", did not wish to comment on the decision of the CNES. From now on an "expert attached to the assistant direction of the CNES in Toulouse", he will direct a simple cell and not what was formerly the equivalent of a subdirectorate.
But after his retirement, will any extraterrestrial form of life remain at the CNES? Aged 58, Jean-Jacques Velasco must retire in four years. It will thus be necessary to find and train a substitute, which does not seem to be, for the hour, a priority of the French agency.
In addition, some consider that the last book by Velasco, "UFOS, the evidence", that he however dissociates from his professional activity within SEPRA, had been worth some inimitable with the CNES, in particular because of a thesis which shows a concentration of UFOS near strategic nuclear sites...
6 000 witness reports
However, since 1977, by applying to the analysis of the phenomena known as extraterrestrial the rigour of the scientific method, SEPRA contributed to demystify a subject which remains sensitive. "When one speaks about unidentified flying objects, the scientific approach must be rigorous", stresses Jean-Jacques Velasco, who vomits the sects and their Martian wild imaginings. "Their significance can be acknowledged only if the presence of an object is simultaneously observed by a witness and measured physically, using radar for example."
To this end, CNES made agreements with the gendamery (which in particular noted 2 200 official reports in less than thirty years), civil aviation, the Air Force and the French Weather Services. To date, the Toulouse "men in black" collected approximately 6 000 testimonys (between 10 and 20 each year during the last years), including 5 850 terrestrial. On the number, only 13 % remain unexplained after investigation.
As in 1981, in Trans-in-Provence: a witness observes a phenomenon of ovoid shape, emitting a light whistle, which lands brutally on the ground where he rests more than one minute before taking off again. An analysis underlines a biochemical modification of the plants and a heating of the ground between 300° and 600°. This case remains one of the rare unexplained phenomena of the SEPRA.
Usually, the service concludes with weather balloons, planes, rockets, remains of satellites, lightning etc. In 1990, a farmer locates a crater of great dimension in his cornfield. It was in fact a bomb buried since the Second world war which waited 45 years to explode... The whole of these facts, explained or not, is now recorded within the SEPRA files which UFOmaniacs hope to read as soon as possible since officially, the service does not exist any more.
Well, I am the UFOmaniac who wanted public access to the files.
As soon as rumours appeared as well as an article in Ciel et Espace mentioning a downgrade or disappearance of SEPRA, and I gave my "UFOmaniac" reaction as follows:
As you already know, CNES seems to have taken the decision to close SEPRA.
ALL documentation, papers, studies, photographs, testimonies (anonymized), graphs, listings, files, taking away of the GEPAN/SEPRA constitute a PUBLIC PROPERTY gathered thanks to the taxes paid by us all.
Since this public property is not used any more, because of the suppression of the service which exploited it (whatever the quality of this service or its conclusions), this documentation should be accessible to all, without delay, free of charges, for the benefit of WHOEVER would like to make his/her own opinion or to consolidate his/her opinion on UFOs, GEPAN, SEPRA and CNES matters.
Procedures at least as simple as the American FOIA regulation should be organized without delay.
A public archive location open to the public should be organized as soon as possible, following the example in the United States since 1977 where National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC, maintains for the benefit of ANY American citizen the integrality or almost of many cubic meters of UFO documentation gathered or created by Project Blue Book, also offering facilities of reproduction at cost price.
It would be morally and scientifically outrageous that this documentation disappears, as it was the case with the Colorado project (Condon report) in the United States, which files should have been opened but were taken by the study director to his personal residence where he finally made a garden fire of it.
I firmly think that the entire French ufology community should now have a high concern to ask for public access to this documentation in its entirety.
The response or lack of response of CNES to this demand would prove or disprove their good faith.
If French ufologists, whatever their opinions, have no other concern that to quack and speculate over and over without ending, on this or that error in past SEPRA activities, or to debate on incompetence or dissimulation, or to criticize their colleagues for conspirationist tendency or any of their opinions, they will get only what they deserve:
A petition was very quickly organized. A remarkable thing is that many French ufologist shared my concern and signed the petition. Many understood that the question is not so much to speculate on the content of the unpublished SEPRA files or the reality of UFOS and not even to speculate in the quality of the SEPRA/GEPAN files or the person of Jean-Jacques Velasco, but that it is very important that everyone finally gets the eight to read the documentation without complication and become able to make HIS OWN OPINION on this work and these files. This is why the petition obtained the signatures of ufologists who have sometimes completely antagonistic positions in connection with the UFOs, and SEPRA: the goal is that the files are not lost nor hidden in secrecy in some unspecified cabinet, they must be anonymized and opened to all without complicated access conditions.
If your demand is the same, please visit the petition's web site and sign up.
The petition and more comments were at ovniland.com.