The Thornton Page Papers at CFI

March 4, 2014

With interest renewing due to the upcoming follow-up to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, I was reminded of one of our more interesting sets of papers here at CFI, namely, some items donated by the family of Dr. Thornton Page.

Dr. Page (1913–1996) was an astrophysicist, professor, and scientist who was heavily involved with the U.S. government’s investigations into alleged UFOs, beginning in the early 1950s through the early 1970s. Page was a member of the Robertson Panel, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Scientific Advisor Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects, which convened in early 1953. The CIA was examining UFOs as a potential threat to the United States, not only trying to determine whether the UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin but possibly a Soviet threat as well. The panel quickly determined that there was no real threat to the United States but recommended that reports of sightings should be monitored closely.

Page worked with many of the luminaries in this field, such as James Oberg, J. Allen Hynek, and Carl Sagan. In December 1969, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conducted a symposium in Boston on UFOs. The symposium was organized by Page and Sagan and included experts in many different fields (including astronomy and physics but also psychiatry and sociology) and led to the publication of UFOs: A Scientific Debate (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972). The lectures and the book led to a better understanding of the lack of scientific evidence for these phenomena and in some ways created the model for how science deals (or doesn’t deal) with UFOs today.

Page’s papers here at CFI include the notes, drafts, and other miscellaneous communications used to prepare the book. There is correspondence with everyone involved, including the publisher, the authors, and, of course, Carl Sagan.

Page worked for NASA in his later years and was very much like Sagan in keeping an open mind about such things as UFOs. After all, science takes us where the evidence leads.