In 1938, Orson Welles terrified Americans with his dramatic radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’s alien invasion novel, The War of the Worlds (though probably not as much as you’ve been led to believe). Which makes it strangely appropriate that, nearly 40 years later, Welles would go on to narrate another extraterrestrial tale—this time for NASA.
In 1975, Welles provided narration for the short documentary Who’s Out There?, which explored a range of theories and beliefs about alien life, and featured interviews with prominent scientists, including Carl Sagan, George Wald, and Ashley Montagu. The film opens with Welles reading from The War of The Worlds and moves on to interviews with listeners who were affected by the radio program at the time.
A second narrator explains, “All of the people you will be seeing in this program—scientists, radio listeners, Orson Welles—have one thing in common: Each has had reason to believe in the likely existence of non-earthly life in the universe.” Welles would later have a crater on Mars named after him.
The documentary is a surreal and fascinating foray into extraterrestrial theory, science fiction, and science fact. Check it out above, then read up on Welles’s greatest insults, the time he met Hitler, and when he freaked out over frozen peas.
A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2023.