Sean Kirkpatrick is not done talking about UFOs.

For nearly 18 months, he’s been the first head of the Pentagon’s fledgling office tasked with investigating what the government calls “unidentified anomalous phenomena,” which military pilots have increasingly reported seeing in the skies.

Kirkpatrick set up an entire system for collecting data, waded through hundreds of reported UFO sightings and batted down whistleblower claims that the government covered up a program to reverse-engineer alien craft. And don’t forget the Chinese spy balloon episode.In an interview with POLITICO Magazine, he talked about why he’s stepping down in December and how he sought to “institutionalize the solution for getting at the heart of these anomalies.” The Pentagon has a real interest in deciphering the sharp rise in unidentified crafts spotted by military pilots; if these aren’t aliens, they could be foreign adversaries posing incredibly new threats.

Kirkpatrick, 55, was perhaps the perfect person to lead what’s formally known as the Defense Department’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, which was established in July 2022. A physicist who spent decades working in the defense-intelligence arena, he’s open to the possibility that we’re not alone in the universe, having co-authored a hotly-debated paper about alien motherships. But his bottom line is to focus on the science.

“If you are talking with NASA or the European Space Agency, and you’re talking about looking for life out in the universe, it is a very objective, very scientifically sound discussion and discourse,” he said, describing the public discourse. “As that discussion gets closer to the solar system, somewhere around Mars, it turns into science fiction. And then as you get even closer to Earth, and you cross into Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes conspiracy theory.”

Part of Kirkpatrick’s work going forward, he added, will be to “raise the level of the conversation” about these unidentified objects.

And yes, we did ask him if aliens are real.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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