Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty NASA
NASA's independent study into UFOs is officially underway.
The nine-month study of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) began on Monday, according to a press release from the agency.
The study focuses "solely on unclassified data" and will result in a "full" public report, which NASA expects to release in mid-2023, per Friday's release.
The team is composed of 16 individuals, including former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, and chaired by Simons Foundation president David Spergel, NASA said.
Daniel Evans, assistant deputy associate administrator for research at NASA's Science Mission Directorate, is leading the study.
"Understanding the data we have surrounding unidentified aerial phenomena is critical to helping us draw scientific conclusions about what is happening in our skies," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in Friday's release.
NASA first announced its plan to conduct an independent study of UAPs in June.
At the time, Zurbuchen called it "high-risk, high-impact" research during a speech at the National Academies of Science.
"We are not shying away from reputational risk," Zurbuchen said, per the Associated Press. He also acknowledged that some may see this move as NASA "kind of selling out."
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
On Friday, NASA said its new independent study team will aim to "lay the groundwork for future study on the nature of UAPs for NASA and other organizations" by identifying how previously-existing data "can potentially be analyzed to shed light" on the unidentified objects.
UAPS "are of interest for both national security and air safety" according to NASA.
"Establishing which events are natural provides a key first step to identifying or mitigating such phenomena, which aligns with one of NASA's goals to ensure the safety of aircraft," the space agency said in June.
The month prior, Congress held its first hearing about UFOs in half a century. During testimony, Ronald Moultrie, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said Military officials have been encouraged to report anything unusual they see in the skies, according to the AP.
"We want to know what's out there as much as you want to know what's out there," Moultrie explained at the time. "We get the questions not just from you. We get it from family and we get them night and day."