Is it Illegal for Americans to Have Contact With Extraterrestrials?

For years, conspiracy-minded social media users trying to sound smart by “just asking questions” have floated a conspiracy theory that is particularly moon-brained.

Most iterations of the post ask:

If the government has no knowledge of aliens, then why does Title 14, Section 1211 of the Code of Federal Regulations, implemented on July 16,1969, make it illegal for U.S. citizens to have any contact with extraterrestrials or their vehicles?

As so often happens, the conspiracy is a distortion of something legitimate — in this case, Section 1211, also known as the Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law.

The measure was indeed taken up by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1969, in advance of the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, which culminated in the American spacecraft landing there on July 20 of that year.

But Section 1211 did not place restrictions on the potential interactions of astronauts Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin — or any American — with “little green men.” Instead it was established by NASA to govern the agency’s “policy, responsibility and authority to guard the Earth against any harmful contamination or adverse changes in its environment resulting from personnel, spacecraft and other property returning to the Earth after landing on or coming within the atmospheric envelope of a celestial body.”

More specifically, the policy addressed protocols for the astronauts following their return to Earth on July 24 of that year. As Time magazine reported at the time:

To guard against the remote possibility that they are harboring unknown lunar organisms that might endanger life on earth, the astronauts will be forced to exchange the isolation of space for a terrestrial variety nearly as lonely. For 21 days after Apollo leaves the moon, they will be in quarantine.

Section 1211 was only enforced through 1977, meaning it was not in effect in 2023 when interest in “unidentified flying objects” and extraterrestrials escaped fringe chat forums and made its way into government proceedings both in the U.S. and Mexico.

As NPR reported in September 2023:

The Department of Defense now has a special office to look into mysterious sightings, and UFOs have gotten recent attention in Congress. Earlier this year, for example, a former government worker made headlines when he told lawmakers that officials had recovered alien “biologics” from crash sites, but a Pentagon spokesperson said such claims could not be substantiated.

That same month NASA announced that, at the recommendation of an independent panel of experts, it had established the position of director of research into Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP), to be filled by the agency’s former liaison to the U.S. Defense Department Mark McInerney.

“NASA’s new Director of UAP Research will develop and oversee the implementation of NASA’s scientific vision for UAP research, including using NASA’s expertise to work with other agencies to analyze UAP and applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to search the skies for anomalies,” the agency’s administrator Bill Nelson — a former U.S. Senator and crewmember of the space shuttle Columbia — said in a statement announcing McInerney’s new role. “NASA will do this work transparently for the benefit of humanity.”

Update 9/29/2023, 3:34 a.m.: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag