Debunked: The Tether UFOs

An Investigation into the Sensational Video Footage
STS-75 Camera Image
Broken tether and alleged UFO swarm taken aboard the STS-75 mission shuttle

The “Tether UFO” incident as it’s become known today is still being talked about throughout the community as one of the “smoking gun” examples of video evidence for UFO existence, and consequently for NASA’s code of silence on the matter. NASA’s statement concluded that it was nothing more than ice crystals floating about the scene and after my investigation I’m inclined to believe them.

Although there is evidence of NASA’s code of silence, with so much data available from related experts for this mystery It’s certain that this is a case of mistaken UFO identification caused by a relatively unknown phenomenon between a camera’s lens, focus, and lighting known in the photography world as “bokeh”.

The NASA STS-75 Mission

The STS-75 Mission, which took place in late February 1996 was an expedition designed to study possible new sources of spacecraft power through the electrodynamics of a tethered satellite system (TSS) in Earth’s Ionosphere. The mission was carried out by a joint crew of six NASA, five Italian Space Agency (ASI), and one U.S. Air Force astronauts.

While the mission was underway the tether had snapped from within the cargo bay just short of the full deployment distance for the satellite, releasing 12.8 miles of tether into orbit. With no ability to retrieve the payload, the crew immediately turned their cameras toward the event to document the accident.

From the Window

The recording depicted a sensational video of illuminated donut shaped discs by the hundreds that appear to swarm the outstretched tether as it drifted further away from the shuttle. But before jumping to any conclusions, there was an exchange between the astronauts and the Capsule Communicator once NASA started receiving the curious video feed. The Payload Commander, Franklin R. Chang-Diaz was quick to respond with what he was seeing out of his windows.

tether ufos incident image

Franklin: You guys getting the image?

Controller: Franklin, we see a long line, a couple of star-like things and a lot of things swimming the foreground. Can you describe what you’re seeing?

Franklin: Well the long line is the tether and there’s a little bit of debris that flies with us and it’s illuminated by the sun at such a low angle. This is a lot of stray light and it’s getting washed out quickly, but Claude is trying to do a good job here adjusting the cameras.

Controller: Copy that.


 Visual Effects Breakdown

Later in the History Channel hosted show, UFO Hunters filmmaker and visual effects veteran John Tindall was featured to examine the STS-75 footage. He marked that the cameras used on the space shuttle during that mission were utilizing a telephoto lens, with a circular mirror which was leaving an artifact on the image.

He very successfully replicated the phenomenon to an identical performance using backlit fishing line demonstrating the illusion the telephoto mirror can produce with out-of-focus objects (4:40). Highlighting also how overexposed images, objects appearing brighter than they actually are, will dominate the camera’s intake of light in a given area making some of these particles appear as if they are traveling behind the tether.

Photography Tricks

The effect Tindall replicated with the fishing line is a very much sought after technique in photography called bokeh. Bokeh put simply, is the way a lens renders out-of-focus points of light. The pleasurable aesthetic quality that can be achieved understanding this phenomenon adds a whimsy to the photographed subject and is the excitement of amateur and experienced photographers alike.heart shaped bokeh

The desired effect is achieved by distorting the shape in which light reaches the aperture. The consequence of this affects the way out-of-focus light is shaped in the image, as pictured here. Notice how the light in focus is unaffected in contrast to the background.

The Tether UFOs: Still Unidentified?

The STS-75 mission video is an exciting clip of film. The peculiar pulsating discs drifting around the cable are completely alien in their appearance and the sensational nature of this video being from a NASA shuttle in low Earth orbit made a perfect storm for misidentification.

NASA’s statement that the “discs” are nothing more than ice crystals and debris floating around the shuttle seems to be supported through this research. I’m hoping that wherever you are in your own investigations, you can appreciate the analysis that I’ve presented here. And through the detailed examination you do as an investigator, you will, as a result learn more about this reality and the mysteries within it.

Do you have any evidence to the contrary? Maybe some further analysis toward the debunking of this video clip? Post below and get the conversation started.


  1. Dunbar, Brian. “STS-75.NASA. NASA, 14 Dec. 2005. Web. 12 Sept. 2015.
  3. Chait, Stewart. “The Nasa Files.UFO Hunters. History Channel. 07 May 2008. Television. Season1, Episode 13.
  4. Tirosh, Udi. “DIY – Create Your Own Bokeh – DIY Photography.” DIY Photography. N.p., 24 Apr. 2007. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.
ControversialUFO Case Study

Joel is a professional visual effects artist with work in game, television, and film. He is an enthusiastic researcher of the mysterious and paranormal, and the founder of His favorite topics are history, pop culture, UFOs, extraterrestrial lore, and the spirituality that sometimes accompanies them.
14 Comments on this post.

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    • Joel Hasse
      7 January 2016 at 10:25 pm

      You’re welcome, Iawoa!I’m so glad that my investigation helped in your own research. I don’t have any plans to come back to this particular sighting right now, but I will consider diving deeper into this article if I find anything more to add. Thanks for your comment.

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    • Joel Hasse
      23 February 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Thank you for your complements! I always list where I get my information in the gray box labeled “sources” below the end of the article. I’m glad that you found this investigation useful.

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      21 March 2016 at 3:05 pm

      Thank you for the tip and the compliment! I’ll look into why that overlapping is happening in Internet Explorer. I’m glad you enjoy my blog!

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