MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
NPR has learned a highly anticipated report from the Department of Defense is not confirming the existence of extraterrestrial sightings, but the report is generating lots of interest in UFOs, which is good news for the town of Roswell, N.M., which has come to rely on alien tourism. NPR's Kirk Siegler passed through Roswell today and sent us this postcard.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Welcome inside the International UFO Museum and Research Center, where a life-sized flying saucer is venting steam and man-sized aliens are staring down at little Alexander Poff and his mom, Tasha.
TASHA: (Laughter) I'm so glad that was worth standing here for 30 minutes for.
ALEXANDER POFF: Really awesome.
SIEGLER: Museum visitation is up by more than 20% compared to 2019. Local geologist and professor Frank Kimbler has a theory for why.
FRANK KIMBLER: If you go back in time and if you brought up the idea of UFOs or aliens, people didn't want to talk about it. They thought you were loony. But these days, it has changed.
SIEGLER: There is a display here featuring some of the unknown artifacts Kimbler found at the site near Roswell, where a flying saucer allegedly crashed in 1947.
KIMBLER: Some of the material might be of extraterrestrial origin. We don't know that for sure. It still needs more testing. But it is pretty exciting.
SIEGLER: Kimbler is also excited that the U.S. government has recently been getting more comfortable acknowledging, he says, that they don't know what some of the stuff spotted up in the sky is.
KIMBLER: I knew it all along because I work in the field as a UFOlogist. But the idea that the government is being a little more straightforward with the public, I don't think they're going to come back and say - I'd be real surprised if they said, oh, you know, we have extraterrestrials.
SIEGLER: Now, they apparently didn't, But once the unclassified portion of the report is fully public this month, UFOlogists do expect the government to commit to doing more research at least. For UFO enthusiasts like Ethan Anderson, though, the report is a foregone conclusion.
ETHAN ANDERSON: I think the government's a bunch of bull crap. And if you really have technology that's so great, you shouldn't hide it from people.
SIEGLER: Anderson first got interested in aliens after going to Roswell's UFO Festival, a three-day little green men extravaganza held here every summer. He's convinced there's a government cover-up, especially as so many people are capturing so many more unusual sightings now with their phones.
ANDERSON: I would say it's moreso like they don't even know what they're dealing with, so they don't want other people to go looking for trouble.
SIEGLER: Roswell, an old oil boom town, has capitalized on imaginative ideas like these over the years. And an even bigger tourist boom is expected this summer with the report's release and pandemic restrictions lifting. Shops hawking alien trinkets line the streets outside the museum. Even the McDonald's here is in the shape of a spaceship. Tourists like Vita Gartung of Kansas hadn't heard of the UFO report, but her mind is made up.
VITA GARTUNG: I have a alien tattoo. Yeah. I believe that we came from the sky. And, you know, we're here to gather information. And we're going to be going back up someday.
SIEGLER: She figures the U.S. government knows extraterrestrials are in our universe. Maybe they're even watching us with curiosity.
GARTUNG: If they wanted to take us out, they could. But I think we're doing a good job ourselves, so they probably will just let us be.
SIEGLER: Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Roswell, New Mexico, Earth. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.