Am I an idiot, having spent 15 years and many dollars involved with the SETI League, one of the few organizations whose mission it is to discover extraterrestrial intelligence? No! At least, not for that reason. When NASA dropped SETI by Congressional fiat, a number of groups leapt into the breach. The SETI League, of which I have the pleasure of being the founder, was one of them.
Our existence began in 1994. Looking back over those fifteen years, I have a number of memories. Included in the memories is a dinner at an AAAS convention where all the SETI scientists were present. Frank Drake was there, the originator of the famous Drake equation and the first person to actually look for an ET message. So were Jill Tarter and Kent Cullers and the usual host of others. Of course that's not all, but it sure seemed that way to this neophyte. I had the opportunity to visit the Arecibo observatory while the SETI Institute's Project Phoenix was under way. The observation was scheduled for late at night, and I stayed up long enough to watch the computer programs parse some random noise. It would certainly have been a stunning coincidence to just happen to receive a message that night. No such luck; I repaired to my "visiting scientist" cabin after a couple of hours.
I remember attending several of the SETI League's SETICon meetings, organized by our now-volunteer executive director, Paul Shuch. I even delivered a paper about gravitational lensing, a subject which I believe I can at least pronounce correctly, and finding that scientist and mathematician Claudio Maccone thought enough of it to incorporate it in one of his books. And, I remember those heady days of the late '90s and early oh-ohs during which the SETI League was well funded, with contributions both from flush foundations and generous individuals, and by the overnight doubling of our ranks as new members were inspired after seeing the movie Contact. But most importantly, I remember a number of earnest SETI League members doing what I had hoped all along would be accomplished when I envisioned the organization: setting up their own observing station and searching for that elusive signal.
They haven't found it. Despite a massive search by other SETI groups as well, nobody has found it. Why, then, am I not discouraged? 15 years is a pretty substantial life fraction, and I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't at least disappointed. But despite the Fermi Paradox, despite the Unique Earth naysayers, I am encouraged that success is around the corner. Every year our search capability increases. Every year we learn more about the universe and cosmology. And, I hope, that SETI League members are even now, with or without their small dishes and inexpensive hardware, thinking about the problem as innovative amateurs usually do. Will the big guys make the Discovery? Will we, the little guys? And how soon? I have no prediction - "the corner" could be anywhen.
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this page last updated 1 August 2009
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