Dr. Hynek, who moved to Scottsdale from Evanston, Ill., a year ago, was for
18 years professor and chairman of the Department of Astronomy at Northwestern
University and director of its Dearborn Observatory, until he retired in 1978.
He was involved in the Air Force U.F.O. research effort from 1948 to
Often his task for the Air force was to examine at first hand more substantial
reports of flying saucers and the like. 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 that something from space. Nevertheless, he said, "Scientists in
the year 2066 may think of us very naive in our denials".
He long asserted that U.F.O.'s should be taken seriously and he eventually
became displeased with the Air force approach. He said that its methods were
slipshod and that it was not conducting a scientific study. The Air Force,
in turn, concluded that there was no evidence of extraterrestrial craft and
the U.F.O. project was abandoned.
He Avoids 'U.F.O. Nut' Label
In an interview in 1974, Dr. Hynek said that he had remained with the program
as long as he did to retain access to Air force data and to avoid being marked
a "U.F.O. nut." Dr. Hynek founded the center for U.F.O. Studies in Evanston
in 1973 and took it with him when he moved to Scottsdale.
He is credited with coining the phrase "close encounters of the third kind" to
describe humans meeting creatures from space. He used the phrase in his 1972
book "The U.F.O. Experience" and it became the title of the 1977 Steven
Spielberg film, on which he served as technical adviser. When a reporter once
suggested that Dr. Hynek he might be remembered not as an astronomer but as the
man who made U.F.O.'s respectable, he replied: "I wouldn't mind. If I
can succeed in making the study of U.F.O.'s scientifically respectable and do
something constructive in it, then I think that would be a real contribution".
He resigned from the center he founded a few months ago for ill health,
according to the director, Tina Choate.
He Worked on Proximity Fuse
In World War II, Dr. Hynek was a civilian scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied
Science Laboratory, where he helped to develop the navy's radio proximity fuse.
Josef Allen Hynek was born in Chicago, Ill., to Czechoslovak parents. He
graduated from the University of Chicago in 1931 and earned a Ph.D. degree there
in 1935. He joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ohio State in
1936. After the war he returned there, rising to full professor in 1950.
In 1956 he left to join Prof. Fred Whipple, The Harvard astronomer, at the
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which had combined with the Harvard
Observatory at harvard. Dr. Hynek had the assignment of directing the tracking
of an American space satellite, a project for the International Geophysical
Year in 1956 and thereafter. In addition to 247 optical stations around the
world, there were to be 12 photographic stations. A special camera was devised
for the task and a prototype was build and tested and then stripped apart again
when, on Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched its first satellite, Sputnik.
Assumed the U.S Would Be First
"We had always assumed that the United States would have the first satellite."
Dr. Hynek said ruefully at the time. "If I've ever had a traumatic experience,
that was it." Observations of the Soviet satellite were received, and with
twice-daily news conferences, Dr. Hynek and dr. Whipple began to reassure the
public after what Dr. Hynek called "this intellectual Pearl Harbor, a real
gutsy sock to the stomach." Once things in satellite tracking settled down to
a routine, Dr. Hynek went back to teaching, taking the chairmanship at
Northwestern in 1960.
He is survived by his wife, the former Miriam Curtis; four sons and a daughter,
Scott Josef, of Walthan, Mass.; Joel Curtis, of Leonia, N.J., Paul Curtis, of
Scottsdale, Ross Allen, of Lake Forest, Ill.; Roxane, of
Hanover, Mass; and five grandchildren.