For the first time in 25 years, Congress may earmark funds for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).
NASA launched SETI in 1992, building two massive radio telescopes—one in Puerto Rico, the other in California—with the mission to comb the universe looking for signs of life, or at least technology. Just a year later, though, the project was pulled by Nevada Sen. Richard Bryan, and the SETI Institute hasn’t received NASA funding since. That could all change, though, thanks to a new bill making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.
The current budget authorization bill includes a recommendation that NASA spend $10 million over the next two years on a “search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions, in order to meet the NASA objective to search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.” Those technosignatures would most likely come in the form of radio waves emitted as a form of communication–and that is SETI territory.
While it’s an exciting development, the scientists at the SETI Institute aren’t jumping for joy quite yet: “This is an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill,” Dr. Jill Tarter told Fast Company. “Even if it passes, the appropriators may not provide any SETI funding in their bill. But if they do, that would be a very big deal.”
In these days of exoplanets and rockets to Mars and unexplained radio bursts and time-traveling telescopes, Tarter is glad to see that NASA is more interested in finding an endowment for SETI’s research, perhaps from a private organization or individual who loves space (ahem, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson). “Ten million for two years won’t do much,” Tarter said. “But an ongoing funding stream could do a great deal.”