The father of modern ufology
. Although slightly gullible
and overly trusting at times, Hynek stood as a man of reason
and intelligence amidst a sea of clowns and wackos. Courteous and eloquent
, his words make fine ufological reading provided they are taken with a tiny grain of salt
. Perhaps one of the closest approximations to objectivity
one can hope for in the field.
Professionally, the doctor was a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University who went on to become the chairman of the astronomy department at Northwestern University. But his fame comes from his connection to the world of flying saucers, a connection which began as a consultant astronomer to the USAF's Project Sign during the late 1940s. His job basically consisted of telling the public that all UFO sightings were explained by the presence of Venus or meteors.
In 1951, Hynek was appointed the chief scientific consultant of the Air Force's Project Grudge (a renamed and evolved Sign). In March 1952, Grudge was rechristened Project Blue Book, and Hynek found himself the chief excuse-maker for the government's largest acknowledged UFO project. When the Robertson Panel was formed at the behest of the CIA to assess the national security risk of saucers, Hynek was named an associate member. Despite working for the government, Hynek constantly campaigned for serious federal investigation of UFOs and went to great lengths to properly investigate claims himself.
During the mid-1960's, Hynek, troubled by the large number of Blue Book cases marked off as 'unknowns', began questioning his blanket skepticism. Although he never accepted the notion that UFOs were extraterrestrial spacecraft, he felt the scientific world was doing an inadequate job of studying them. In 1966, Hynek put forth the "swamp gas" hypothesis as a possible explanation. The media seized on it and made Blue Book into a laughingstock, prompting the Condon Investigation.
After the closure of Blue Book in 1969, Hynek emerged as the most prominent figure in the ufological community. (Donald Keyhoe was ousted for financial mismanagement of NICAP in 1969, and James McDonald put a bullet in his own head in 1971). Hynek's mixture of tolerance and restraint would lead the field into much greener pastures. In 1972, he published The UFO Experience: A Scientific Study, a very serious and intelligent tome which provided us with the "close encounters" terminology among other things. Hynek founded CUFOS in 1973 and served as its scientific director until his death in 1986.