When I was in the sixth grade, the middle school I attended had a special program that allowed students with good grades to miss class time occasionally to take part in a form of “independent study.” The program required that each student choose a topic, research it thoroughly over the course of a year, and ultimately have something to show for their effort to understand the world beyond the classroom. Because of the broad scope of the project, one could potentially study just about anything, though most students chose pretty traditional fodder for kids that age: baleen whales, how clouds form, photosynthesis, and the like.

Of course, I was never a normal kid, as demonstrated by my decision to grow up and write on the internet for a living. I’d love to say I spent some time mulling over my options, but the truth of the matter was, as soon as I was offered a coveted position in the program, I was already sure about my topic: I was going to find out the truth about UFOs.

As an adult, I understand how unlikely it would be that an 11-year-old would be the guy to break this case, but let’s all just agree that the ’90s were a different time. Fox Mulder was taking on government conspiracies left and right every week; surely I could handle just this measly one. 

So I first set about researching the topic the way kids did back in the pre-internet age: in the card catalog of my school library. For those of you who aren’t familiar with card catalogs, there was once a time when just finding a book in which to look up answers was an endeavor unto itself. Once you found a card with the title of a book and the author on it, it would provide you with a secret alpha-numeric code you could use to Indiana Jones your way through the library’s dusty shelves until you found it. Then you’d spend however long it took to realize it wasn’t the right book to answer your question, and start the whole thing over again.

My card catalog adventures did prove fruitful, however, and I pored over book after book discussing stuff like Project Blue Book, Project Grudge, the Majestic 12, the Roswell crash, and so forth. As I took notes in my Trapper Keeper, one name kept popping up over and over again: Stanton Friedman.

Friedman was a nuclear physicist-turned-UFO expert, and had been the first civilian to document the site of the Roswell crash as a part of a serious investigation pertaining to alien life. In a UFO community full of crackpots and crazies, Stanton Friedman used a pragmatic scientific approach to the phenomena, as honed through nearly a decade and a half working on classified programs like nuclear aircraft and fusion rockets. In 1968, he was asked to speak before the U.S. House of Representatives on the topic, and he famously suggested to them that the Earth was indeed being visiting by extraterrestrial beings. He also posited that these beings must be using “magnetohydrodynamic propulsion” to get here…which is something I still don’t really understand, but always thought sounded so scientific it had to be true.

Modern-day Alex is pretty confident that alien life must exist out there in the universe, but is less certain they’re traveling here to cut up our cows. Middle-school Alex felt like the unclassified Air Force documents from Project Blue Book (which at the time had already been published for decades) were groundbreaking revelations. I assumed the world hadn’t seen these old library books yet, and here I was, digging through these cryptic tomes of knowledge and uncovering the evidence Earth’s media must have missed—and all it took was a library card!

I rushed home with copies I had asked a librarian to make of the lightly redacted documents I’d found printed in books by—or discussing—my new hero, Stanton Friedman. Every black square over text just confirmed for me that the Air Force, the U.S. government, hell, maybe even the world, didn’t want my groundbreaking discovery made public, so I had to work fast in order to get the news into the hands of the proper authorities: my mom and dad.