Like Mark Twain, Hynek had lived and died by a ‘cosmic clock’. Twain was born with the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1835 and died when it came back blazing in 1910, the year Hynek was born. When Halley returned feebly in 1986, Hynek was barely able to see it before he passed away.
An astronomer trained in the scientific method, for more than thirty years, the dapper Hynek, with a cool beard, eyeglasses and a pipe, was the voice of integrity in the UFO Community, an honest straight-talker who never came on like ‘The Voice of Authority.”
A professor at Ohio State University, Hynek was contacted by Project Sign in 1948 to be a scientific consultant for their investigation of UFO reports centered at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, a quick commute.
“The whole subject seems utterly ridiculous,” said Hynek. “A fad that would soon pass.”
Just the kind of ‘respectable scientist’ the Air Force wanted to debunk UFO.
For the first few years of his UFO studies, Hynek thought that a great many UFOs could be explained as prosaic phenomena misidentified by an observer. But beyond such fairly obvious cases, Hynek often stretched logic to nearly the breaking point in an attempt to explain away as many UFO reports as possible. In his 1977 book, ‘The Hynek UFO Report’ he admitted enjoying his role.
But the astronomer’s take on UFOs began to change after examining hundreds of reports, including those by astronomers, pilots, police officers, and military personnel. He was also distressed by ‘ the dismissive or arrogant attitude of many mainstream scientists‘ towards UFO reports and witnesses.
For the April 1953 issue of Journal of the Optical Society of America titled “Unusual Aerial Phenomena,” Hynek wrote, ‘Ridicule is not part of the scientific method, and people should not be taught that it is. The steady flow of reports… raises questions of scientific obligation and responsibility. Is there … any residue that is worthy of scientific attention? Or, if there isn’t, does not an obligation exist to say so to the public—not in words of open ridicule but seriously, to keep faith with the trust the public places in science and scientists?‘
That same year, Hynek was an associate member of the Robertson Panel, which concluded that there was nothing anomalous about UFOs, and that a public relations campaign should be undertaken to debunk the subject and reduce public interest.
The reports kept coming. Hynek concluded that some were deeply puzzling, even after considerable study. “As a scientist I must be mindful of the past; all too often it has happened that matters of great value to science were overlooked because the new phenomenon did not fit the accepted scientific outlook of the time.”
What prompted Hynek’s change of heart? “Two things, really,” he’d later say. “One was…the Air Force. They wouldn’t give UFOs the chance of existing, even if they were flying up and down the street in broad daylight. Everything had to have an explanation. I began to resent that, even though I basically felt the same way, because I still thought they weren’t going about it in the right way. You can’t assume that everything is black no matter what. Secondly, the caliber of the witnesses began to trouble me. Quite a few instances were reported by military pilots, for example, and I knew them to be fairly well-trained, so this is when I first began to think that, well, maybe there was something to all this.”
Soon UFO believers, even the Air Force, held Hynek in high regard.”One of the most impressive scientists I met while working on the UFO project,” said the first Blue Book Director. “He didn’t do two things that some of them did: give you the answer before he knew the question; or immediately begin to expound on his accomplishments in the field of science.”
In 1977, at the First International UFO Congress in Chicago, Hynek spoke to a packed house. “What I really believe about UFOs is that the phenomenon as a whole is real, but not necessarily just one thing.”
“There is sufficient evidence to defend both the Extraterrestrial Intelligence (ETI) and the Extradimensional Intelligence (EDI) hypothesis,” Hynek continued. “…I hold it entirely possible that a technology exists, which encompasses both the physical and the psychic, the material and the mental. There are stars that are millions of years older than the sun. There may be a civilization that is millions of years more advanced than man’s. We have gone from Kitty Hawk to the moon in some seventy years, but it’s possible that a million-year-old civilization may know something that we don’t … I hypothesize a technology encompassing the mental and material realms. The psychic realms, so mysterious to us today, may be an ordinary part of an advanced technology.”
But Hynek didn’t know. Finding out had become the quest of his life. Soft-spoken, conservative and cautious, Hynek was accused, by UFO fringe groups, of being a CIA “mole” to sabotage the movement.
Donald Rumsfeld had been Hynek’s congressman and introduced J. Allen Hynek at the 1968 Symposium on UFOs. When Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense under President Ford (Also for George W. Bush), after twenty years working for the Pentagon, Hynek demanded to be told the whole truth about UFOs.
“You have no right to know,” said Rumsfield.
Hynek’s final days were spent in a hospital.
“Why can‘t they tell me now?” he asked again and again. “Why can‘t they tell me the truth even now?”
Hynek waited for that telephone call from the White House, the Pentagon or the CIA. None ever came. It was the ultimate disappointment.