The real czars may be long gone, but for decades, the White House has been doing a good job of keeping the role—or at least the honorific—alive, appointing a director to oversee a particular task or issue, and bestowing the title along with it. We’ve had the Ebola Czar, the Drug Czar, the Budget Czar, the Climate Czar, and more. Yesterday, at a press conference at NASA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, the space agency gave the old role a new look, appointing the country’s, and indeed the world’s, first-ever UFO Czar. Only NASA didn’t use either one of those terms.

For starters, fewer and fewer people—or at least those who want to be taken seriously—talk about UFOs, or unidentified flying objects, anymore; there’s too much of a Big Foot, Loch Ness Monster, moon-landings-were-faked feel to the label. The preferred term now is UAP, for unidentified anomalous (or, variously, aerial) phenomenon. And NASA didn’t use the label czar either—another too-loose term for work that the space agency wants to keep solemn and serious. Instead, the full name for the new job is director of UAP research, and the man tapped to do the work is Mark McInernay, a former Pentagon liaison for NASA, who, for the better part of 25 years, has been on the government science beat, serving in multiple positions at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; the National Hurricane Center; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

It will be McInernay’s job to study the sightings, advancing science if the vehicles are confirmed to be extraterrestrial, and protecting national security if they’re of international military origin. He’ll have a lot to work with. Over the past 20 years, there have been more than 120 sightings of objects that often appear to be flying with no identified means of propulsion, and maneuvering in quick, head-snapping, often stop-and-start ways that no conventional machines can manage. It helps that the sightings have been called in by witnesses most people think of as unimpeachably reliable: U.S. military pilots.

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