Hynek’s legendary career in ufology phenomena began in 1948 at Ohio State when he was asked by the United States Air Force to act as astronomical consultant to Project Blue Book, a systematic study of UFOs, which he carried out for twenty-one years.
In 1966, after a rash of sightings in Michigan, he went to the area to take charge of the investigation. After interviewing scores of people he ascribed certain sightings to luminous marsh gas rather than something from space. In stark irony, the infamous “swamp gas” flap had a major impact on the level of skepticism toward government investigations and prompted many amateurs to become citizen investigators.
Hynek eventually became disenchanted with the intentions and methodology of the Air Force. When Project Blue Book was closed, he voiced this concern, continued his work privately, and eventually founded the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in 1973. By then Hynek had executed a 180 degree turn in his skeptical views on the subject – one of the most famous such reversals in ufology history.
Dr. Hynek wrote several books and published the International UFO Reporter. He also formulated the close encounter classification system, made famous in the Steven Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
A reporter once suggested to him he might be remembered not as an astronomer but as the man who made UFOs respectable. He replied, “I wouldn’t mind. If I can succeed in making the study of UFOs scientifically respectable and do something constructive in it, then I think that would be a real contribution.”