small logo Guest Editorial

Petition to Restore NASA SETI Funding
by Tobias Daniel Wabbel, The Future Works, Germany

Editor's Note: Although The SETI League is not officially a party to the following Petition, three SETI League officers, acting as individuals, have opted to support it. We thought the arguments presented, and the list of illustrious signers, would be of interest to our members.

The President of the United States of America
The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20501

Dear President Clinton:

The discovery of what may be fossils of microbiological life on Mars, which you announced to the public on August 7, 1996, has rekindled popular interest in the momentous question of whether humankind is alone in the universe. We are writing to urge that the federal government restore its support of a program that - though modest in scale and inexpensive to operate - could answer that question.

The project is SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Inaugurated on October 12, 1992, NASAís SETI program ranked as the most thorough effort ever made to search the skies for radio signals from nonhuman civilizations. Because there are so many stars - several hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone - astronomers calculated that years of searching would be required before a signal was acquired, even if hundreds of worlds are emitting radio beacons that our equipment can detect. For that reason, NASA had planned to fund the SETI program through at least the year 2002. At a cost of only $12 million per year, SETI was a scientific bargain. But, sadly, funding was cut to zero in September 1993, when the SETI radiotelescopes had been listening for less than one year. Since then it has run at a reduced level, under the auspices of Project Phoenix, Project Argus, and other privately funded searches.

Mr. President, a NASA SETI project can capture the public imagination, reaping educational benefits to our young people far out of proportion to its bargain-basement cost. It can help draw imaginative, visionary individuals into the space agency, building on the estimable efforts in that direction already undertaken by you and the NASA administrator, Daniel Goldin. And of course, should it succeed, contact with an extraterrestrial civilization would constitute the most spectacular discovery in the history of humankind.

Therefore, we the undersigned urge that you restore government SETI funding in your next budget.

Very truly yours,

© 1998 Tobias Daniel Wabbel, The Future Works, Germany

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