All through the ages, there have been reports of strange lights in the sky; but interest in UFO's really took off in the 1940's and 50's. During this time, technology changed fast, and there was a 'race' between the Americans and Russians to get into space, so people began to think about space travel and life on other planets. Science fiction books, for example, HG Wells's classic "War of the Worlds", made people think that there might really be life in space.
During the late 1940's and 50's, there were lots of people claiming to see UFOs in the USA, Russia and Poland. And then there were reports that an alien space ship had crashed in the desert at Roswell, in July 1947. The US army at first said this was true and then reported that they had been wrong and the 'space craft' was really a weather balloon, which had crashed.
This saw the start of people saying there were 'conspiracy theories'. For example, many people believed that the US government had decided to 'cover up' either that there was alien life or that they were building a new unknown space ship at the base.
What other events may have encouraged these beliefs?
Landing on the Moon
In 1959 the Russian, Yuri Gagarin, became the first human in space; others quickly followed and, just 10 years later, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. As the first people set off into space, people wondered if there could be aliens out there who could visit the earth.
The late 1950's and 1960's also saw a lot of worry about the possible use of space rockets to carry nuclear bombs; this led to the 'Cold War' between the USSR and USA. The danger of nuclear war and the idea that the human race could be wiped out, were often used in the science fiction movies of the times.
In the 10 years before Rendlesham, the first space stations were launched, which meant it might be possible to live, as well as travel, in space. At the same time, more powerful telescope satellites looked deeper and deeper into space. With each new space launch or space discovery, interest grew in both science fact and fiction. By the 1970's, UFO sightings had become common across the world.
What was happening at the time the story was set?
The base today
Although the USSR and USA decided it was better to work together in space, the 'cold war' was still in place and many people wondered whether there were secret space ships being built or secret testing of weapons. A lot of people thought they saw UFO's near US bases.
Then, reports started in the papers about an unknown space ship crash landing in the woods at Rendlesham, near the two NATO air bases of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge. Many people found it easy to believe that a UFO had landed. Many people felt that this fact was being covered up by the Military. At that time, these bases were being rented to the United States Air Force. The argument has gone on ever since.
What has happened since Rendlesham?
Atlantis docking with Mir space station 1995
Exploring space has continued and NASA and the Russian space agency worked together. Because of this, the Space Shuttle, Atlantis, docked with the Russian space station, Mir, for the first time in June 1995. This helped to open the way for the International Space Station and longer missions in space.
Now people can spend longer times in space, space 'probes' went to Venus, Mars and beyond, and telescopes, such as Hubble (launched in April 1990) send us a lot of information about space. The question people still argue about is: are we alone in the Universe? Many scientists argue that there are billions of stars, which could have planets. Many of these stars are older than our sun. So it is very likely that life has developed on other planets. However the great distances between stars may mean that we may never make contact. But people who believe in UFOs argue that maybe we have already been visited and Rendlesham is just one example.