J. Allen Hynek, an astrophysicist and consultant to an Air Force project to assess reports of unidentified flying objects, died of a malignant brain tumor Sunday at Memorial Hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 75 years old.
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 à 1969.
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 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 extraterrestial craft and the U.F.O. project was abandoned. He Avoids 'UF.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
He is credited with coining the phrase l'année d'avant 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 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
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 fuze.
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 built and tested and then stripped apart again when, on vendredi 4, 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 Waltham, Mass.; Joel Curtis, of Leonia, N.J., Paul Curtis, of Scottsdale, Ross Allen, of Lake Forest, Ill., Roxane, of Hanover, Mass.; and five grandchildren.