By Isabel Lord
For two weekends in July 1952, D.C.’s skies were falling. Or, so it seemed.
Multiple reports of unexplained radar blips from airports around the District flooded news reports throughout the country. “SAUCERS SWARM IN OVER CAPITOL,” read Iowa’s Cedar Rapids Gazette. “Saucer Outran Jet, Pilot Reveals,” headlined The Washington Post.
Jump forward 14 years, and the Rev. Francis J. Heyden, S.J., head of Georgetown’s astronomy department, explained to the Los Angeles Times his own experience with an unidentified flying object, which he later realized was a weather balloon. UFO witnesses, he told the paper, “are not experiencing hallucinations; they are reasonably sane.” He believed it was possible for there to be more advanced beings out in the universe but suggested that sightings of them on this planet were unlikely.
Today, the Georgetown University Astronomical Society represents the remainder of Heyden’s astronomy department, which was closed in 1972 due to lack of funding. But as far as its opinion on extraterrestrial visits goes, not much has changed. “The Astronomical Society does not believe in UFOs of extraterrestrial origin,” the organization wrote in an email to the Voice.
As far as we know, this is the extent of Georgetown’s—and the District’s—relationship with unidentified flying objects.
Chase Kloetzke is looking to change that.
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Kloetzke is the District’s newest and only active ufologist. Since 1996 she has volunteered for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), an international UFO-report investigating organization with over 5,000 members. She joined the nearly 50-year-old network after working for the Department of Defense, where she trained active duty and civilian anti-terrorist groups. With a degree in private investigation, Kloetzke began at MUFON as a field investigator, studying UFO sightings across the country and quickly rising to lead specialty task forces within the organization. Today, she is their director of investigations, handling cases from all 50 states and 43 countries, and a lobbyist for the UFO fields at large.
Her story began in a state not so far away, during her childhood in Rhode Island, on a day when she was home sick from school and a book titled Chariots of the Gods landed in her lap from the hands of her stepmother. It concerns ancient aliens, or the possibility that ancient cultures were visited and influenced by extraterrestrials.
“That title threw me. I’m thinking, ‘I’m not interested in some church book.’ But eventually, I picked it up and it shocked me,” Kloetzke said. “It really was that rebel spirit of not accepting things you were told and to go ahead and look for yourself.”
Because of this rebel spirit, she became what she is today: an investigator of the paranormal, strange creatures, conspiracy theories, and ancient aliens, as well as UFOs. “I definitely believe there is an intelligence out there; whether it’s good or not, I don’t know,” she said.
However, she does know that 95 to 99 percent of the time MUFON is investigating man-made objects; that UFO sightings do not occur more frequently by race, country, or economic group; and that D.C. has few remarkable sightings. “It’s difficult for any kind of observation here, because it’s so protected,” she said, as the District is in a flight restriction zone. “Everybody’s looking down. They’re only looking up when they’re talking to somebody.”
The fast pace of technological developments on Earth and secrecy surrounding nations’ space assets mean UFOs are getting harder to identify and explain. In response, she is working to tighten the training of MUFON investigators. “It’s important that people know that we investigate reports, and we take it seriously,” she said.
All of MUFON’s investigators follow the scientific method, collecting testable data and attempting to verify results. Kloetzke said that this is what sets them apart from other reporting websites. “It makes us the historians or archivists, because we’ve been doing this since way back in the day when MUFON was first created. We’ve been collecting these reports, and they’re surgical, and they’re open to the public.”
Her newest task is to bring the conversation on UFOs down from the skies and on to the desks of D.C. lawmakers. For her, that means presenting the latest UFO cases to the Hill.
“I’m excited,” said Kloetzke. “You need to learn how D.C. works: It has its ways in, it has its protocols and the way things are done. Once you learn those, you can probably get the ear of the right person.” However, Kloetzke acknowledged that unless the case was recent and a threat, it would be difficult to get lawmakers’ attention.
Currently, MUFON is collecting data with other similar organizations on one unspecified case, and Kloetzke is awaiting the lab results from an encounter that left trace evidence on a witness’ car.
In the meantime, she is hoping to build a network of D.C.-based investigators and is especially hoping to attract younger members, something MUFON has struggled with over the years.
Kloetzke thinks the challenge is because today’s youth do not consider the concept of aliens “weird.” She believes that a decrease in religious belief, coupled with the popularity of aliens in cartoons, video games, and on the internet, contributed to this change. “I think they hope that there’s more out there,” she said.
Roman Kosarzycki (COL ’19), the treasurer of Georgetown’s Astronomical Society, does think that other life may exist, but is more skeptical about UFO visits. “It is highly possible that life is out there,” he said, “but it is very human, and very Western, of us to think that they would want to explore our planet.”
Georgetown physics professor and author of The Physics of Star Wars, Patrick Johnson, was similarly doubtful about UFO visits to Earth, largely due to logistical challenges.
“I think statistically the universe is big enough that there are probably other living things out there,” Johnson said. “I am highly skeptical that any of them have been to Earth. They are almost certainly very far away, and so it would be very difficult for them to get to us. We see no evidence of advanced alien species on any of the planets in our solar system and so the next closest planet would be 4.5 light years away, and not that that is an insurmountable distance, but that would take a lot.”
Many experiences people credit to extraterrestrials could have simple scientific or medical explanations, he said, such as sleep paralysis, epilepsy, and fluctuating levels of carbon monoxide. “I believe most of the people who say they’ve had this experience. Do I believe the reason they’ve assigned to this experience? Not usually,” he said.
For Kloetzke, she is seeking the truth, but knows that she may not find all the answers. “I hope that there are still mysteries this big that you and my kids and grandkids can grab that just ignite a passion that lasts a lifetime, that never fades.”