Ole Henningsen at the entrance to Cité de l'Espace, Toulouse.
Photo by Ole Henningsen, SUFOI Picture Library

The head of the French National Space Centers UFO-team Xavier Passot retires:

Learn from the "identified"
UFO reports ...

by Ole Henningsen

During a trip to the southern France in 2012 I had the opportunity to visit "The Space City", Cité de l'Espace in Toulouse. After reviewing the area's major and exciting exhibitions with an incredible amount of information about astronomy and space I suddenly found a sign outside a separate room grabbing my attention ... a kind of research office for unknown phenomena!

A particular unexpected but interesting additional exhibition for an old space and UFO enthusiast.

Bureau d’investigation! The contents of this exhibition comes from GEIPAN, Groupe d'Etudes et d'Information des Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non identifiés, the UFO investigation team, which is part of CNES, Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, the French National Space Center in Toulouse.

Photo by Ole Henningsen, SUFOI Picture Library

Xavier Passot at the main entrance to the CNES, the French National Space Center in Toulouse.
Photo by Ole Henningsen, SUFOI Picture Library

Xavier Passot and Ole Henningsen studying the GEIPAN information brochure. Latest version can be downloaded from GEIPAN's website.
Photo by Ole Henningsen, SUFOI Picture Library

GEIPAN, Groupe d'Etudes et d'Information des Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non identifies, is the UFO investigation team, which is part of CNES, Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, the French National Space Center in Toulouse, and led by Xavier Passot.
I have exchanged emails with Mr. Passot, and when I'm about to leave the UFO exhibition, my mobile is ringing. The phone is from Xavier Passot, who just returned from vacation and now invites me to a meeting with French UFO researchers that same evening. Unfortunately, by lack of time I’m not able to attend, but manage an hour later to meet and exchange ideas with him for a few minutes at the entrance to CNES, the French National Space Center.


Xavier Passot interview

Xavier Passot now retires at the end of April 2016, and I asked him about his experiences with the job as head of GEIPAN.

What education and what jobs did you have in the past?


I am a computer scientist engineer by training (1976). I joined the CNES (French Space Agency) in 1983, after a job in a small software company then in Hewlett-Packard. In CNES, I have been in charge of several satellite monitoring and control subsystems (on board and on ground) and has been responsible for the development of the VEGETATION image processing centre (VEGETATION is a wide field earth observation instrument on board SPOT4 and SPOT5).

In February 2007, I joined the European ESA Gaia project (An astrometry satellite launched late 2013) as manager of the CNES team in charge of the french Data Processing Centre.

I took the responsibility of the GEIPAN in July 2011


In which way were you - to your own opinion - qualified to get the job as head of the UFO study section GEIPAN within CNES?


I've been selected to take the job because of my wide knowledge of the space systems, as many CNES engineers, because an appreciated pragmatism, and because my long experience as an amateur astronomer and photographer.


Did you apply for the job yourself, or were you invited to apply for the job as head of GEIPAN?


I applied by myself. 3 years before, I envisaged to apply to the position, but it was not appropriate to leave the Gaia project only one year after.


Did you care about the UFO-issue earlier in your life? In what way?


As many ufologists, the story begins when I was a teenager, it was in the 60's: my father and my mother had heated debates about UFOs; my mother was believing in foreign visitors as my father was a sceptic. My elder brother was a witness of the 1954 UFO wave.

In those days, I thought that science could sort out the question.


What thoughts, ideas and expectations did you have, when you took the job?


Following my thinkings of my youth, I still believed that science could sort out the question, and that I could participate to the investigation.

I hoped to find in the GEIPAN archive some major documents giving some evidences, or at least indices.


To what extent have you been able to realize your expectations and ideas during these years?


Science really helped us to sort out many cases, but always in the way of quite simple explanations: fireballs, thunderballs, planets and stars, and mainly the psychology of the visual sense.

I finally found some "secret stamped" documents, but they are commonplace sighting reports of planets, moon or fireballs. They have been stamped "secret" because, in the 50's, as the government suspected foreign intrusions, some UFO reports was systematically stamped "secret".


In what way have you influenced the work of GEIPAN in the elapsed time? So in what way do you think that things have changed for GEIPAN in your period as head of GEIPAN?


My major influence was in the following ways:

-I applied myself to process all the sighting reports, strange or not: as many ufologists, the previous GEIPAN managers focused on the stranger cases, but this gives a false view of the UFO phenomenon. You learn more when finding an explanation than ranking as "unidentified". Some sighting reports of Venus, moon, fireballs, space debris reentries or chinese lanterns show clearly the weakness and biases of the human testimony.

-I reorganized the team of GEIPAN private investigators: I reduced to 20 the previous team of 100 "IPN" (First level investigator) to have a reliable and trained team.

-I organized the CAIPAN workshop with 100 guests:  ufologists, scientists and public institutes (Army) -I made the 1954 UFO wave cases published.

I remember that during our short meeting at the entrance to CNES, we also took some photos, and talked about the majority of the incoming reports to GEIPAN having a natural explanation and most of the reports could easily be identified.

Have there in the elapsed time of your period as head of GEIPAN been reported complex cases, which after a serious and thorough investigation, has not been able to explain, but still stands in the records as unidentified?


From 2011, I ranked "unexplained" about 40 sighting reports, but no one is very consistant and very strange : they are only quite far lights in the sky, with only one witness (in most cases)


The COMETA report has been debated for many years
(available in French:http://www.geipan.fr/index.php?id=204&PM=1_1_10_txdamCat&catPlus=&catEquals=8&catMinus=&catPlus_Rec=&catMinus_Rec=&treeID=183

And English: https://archive.org/details/TheCometaReport)

What is your personal opinion about COMETA report, or you have some comments about the authors of the report or its conclusions?


The COMETA team has analysed many famous sighting reports. Some of them are now explained, or quite weaks. Their conclusion that the ET origin has to be preferred is for me only an opinion, but cannot be justified versus other basic origins (bad distance or speed estimations, natural phenomena, hallucinations or hoaxes...) The ET origin is for me an assumption, but only among others. The ET should not be the catch-all solution, as the gods were in the antiquity.


Do you have any personal ideas about what possible unidentified French - or other - UFO incidents could be due to?

What personal thoughts do you have in this connection?


I have some assumptions on some French famous cases, but they are only personal opinions that I cannot justify; so I prefer not to say!

Let's leave them as "unidentified" until somebody can give some evidence of an origin.


You have during your years as head of GEIPAN been known for a very great openness and transparency in your work.

Can you put some words on cooperation with other French or foreign individuals and organizations in relation to UFOs?


I like to share my knowledge, and I would like to show that nothing is secret in GEIPAN (but the name of the witesses!) I applied myself to publish the maximum of documents. The GEIPAN private investigators can share even more documents with the GEIPAN.

I invited several ufologists in GEIPAN, and we collaborate regularly with CISU and COBEPS about methods or some major sighting cases (e.g.fireballs)


And could you put a few words to the meetings at the CAIPAN Workshop etc.?


I remind you the introduction of the workshop:

"The scientific study of unidentified aerospace phenomena (UAP) requires the collection of reliable, good quality basic information. Human testimony is its primary foundation, but this is subjective and often inaccurate, being influenced by emotions, personal beliefs or faulty perception. Material information (measurements, samples, etc.) is too rarely available, and the photos and videos sent to investigators each year are generally of poor quality. A rational approach to scientific ufology requires better data collection and analysis methods.

The aim of this international workshop, organised by the GEIPAN, is to allow the exchange of methods, tools and experiences between people with practical, specific know-how in the analysis of rare and unpredictable phenomena, whether natural or artificial (unidentified aerospace phenomena, lightning, fireballs, etc.)."

When the debate is not "ET or not", we can calmly debate how to improve the alleged UFO reports and appropriate auxiliary data.

Jacques Vallée concludes the workshop as "A dream came true", thinking to the capability to meet scientists, ufologists, and army.

To be able to get that, the ET question had to be put on side.

Xavier Passot during the CAIPAN-Workshop in Paris 8. -9. juli 2014.
Photo by Thomas Tulien

I assume that you stop your work as head of GEIPAN due to age?

And I wonder if you have any ideas about dealing with UFO matters even after your retirement?


Yes, I'm 62, and I have the capability to retire. I would like to practice my hobbies: photography, astronomy, rowing, nature...

I've started to write a book on the theme "Understanding the UFO phenomena", to be published early 2017.

After that, I don't think that I'll deal with UFO, until I'll meet one ;-)


Have you any closing comments you want to share with Danish - or others - who are interested in and following the progress of continued research and investigate of people's UFO-experiences.


I give a recommandation to any ufologist: don't content with the study of the unidentified phenomena, consider also the explained sighting reports; you will not see the things the same way, and you will have more reliable capabilities to analyze the unidentified ones. 

Researching solved observation reports will provide better starting point for analyzing the unidentified cases, says Xavier Passot, who writes on UFO book, to be published in early 2017.
Photo by Ole Henningsen, SUFOI Picture Library

Should there be other things you would like to tell or point out in connection with this interview?


My job as the head of the GEIPAN was an exciting period, discovering many areas (astronomy, aeronautics, psychology, and also ornithology, flying games ... in flying games, I include drones, radio-controlled plane mock-ups, kites, solar balloons, helium balloons, Led light helium balloons, chinese lanterns, hot air balloons, zeppelins; and the list grows every day) and meeting exceptional persons.


I regret that the great amount of operational tasks did'nt permit to focus on more specific topics e.g. investigating famous sighting cases.

I had troubled to be suspected of hiding or lying on some subjects; I'm happy not have to cope anymore with the plot theory.

All that leaded me to have a different view on the human character: I'm now reading the greek philosopher to try to understand who we are!

The main entrance to CNES, the French National Space Center in Toulouse.
Photo by Ole Henningsen, SUFOI Picture Library

Photo: CNES

J.-P. Aguttes new head of GEIPAN

     The new head of the French Space Centers UFO-team, GEIPAN, Jean Paul Aguttes (1956), has already joined his new position. He graduated from Telecom Paris Tech (formerly Sup Telecom Paris) in 1978, and since 1981 employed within CNES, where he has held prominent positions.

     In 2007 (until 2015), he became Deputy Director in the Toulouse Space Centre and leads a unit of a hundred engineers covering all the expertise in Radio Frequency (antennas, microwave propagation, telecommunications, navigation, telemetry, etc.), supporting ongoing projects and developing technologies for future projects.

He is author of numerous patents and publications (including a dozen in refereed journals) and he himself is a reviewer in several journals. He created and organized several international workshops or symposia.

Ole Henningsen studying and researching more than 600 Danish ufo-photos during the last 10 years.
Photo by Ole Henningsen, SUFOI Picture Library

Ole Henningsen

Duegård, Højrebyvej 59, 4920 Søllested, Denmark

Tlf.: + 45  54 94 11 69  -  + 45  29 41 32 53  Mail: oleh@post1.tele.dk

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