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The Tennessee Valley Authority and SETI
by David Madison (email Maddad @

     On Monday, June 18, 2001 the Scripps Howard News Service ran a story entitled "TVA workers scolded for joining ET hunt". I have been a SETI@home volunteer for two years because I passionately believe in the potential value of the SETI mission. The following is my open letter to the Inspector General of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA):

Tennessee Valley Authority
Office of Inspector General

Please rethink your decision to fire seventeen employees who used your computers to run the SETI@home program. Consider the following:

You may compare our world today to the then known world of September 20, 1519, when the greatest explorer the world has ever know, Ferdinand Magellan, sailed west in five leaky ships and 265 men from Lisbon, Portugal. Three years later one lone ship with 18 men returned from the east, sans Magellan himself who had died in the Philippines. However, he had already crossed between the 123rd and 124th line of East longitude where the Portuguese nine years earlier had arrived from the west. In doing so, he completely re-defined our entire known world. Together with Columbus, Magellan found and made available to the Old World all of North and South America as well as parts of the Far East.

What is the value of all the bank accounts, of all the property of every country in the Western Hemisphere, of all the people there and all their contributions to Mankind? It is incalculable. The scope of SETI is a hundred times greater. We are not going there in person, not yet, but we have found a way to see if there is someone else standing on a distant shore sending a message back to us. We do not have to risk our lives to make this discovery. We only have to donate our unused computer time. That minor cost vanishes in the glare of the potential discovery of a new planet around a new star that Man may take his children to. Where we find one such new world, we will find another, and yet another beyond it. Man will live in more than one location, so that no longer one catastrophic event has the capacity to silence him forever. The sentient beings we find there will challenge our beliefs like the Scopes Monkey Trial never thought possible. Race relations takes on new meaning, as would the inalienable rights spoken of in our constitution. Almost by definition, those we meet will have found a solution to a world at arms against itself. The common man chooses from an array of self actualized occupations never before thought of. Humanity gains entrance into an alliance of races where we contribute our creativity an ingenuity to a bigger everyone that we ever knew possible.

This is what SETI is about.

You stand as a guardian against mankind, preventing him from entering into these wondrous new worlds. Do not just stand aside. Verify to your own satisfaction, but quickly, the safety of the SETI@home system of distributed computing. Contact The SETI League, or one of the other SETI organizations, and ask them how you can help. Encourage participation in SETI@home by the employees of your organization. You have seventeen teachers; learn from them. At least some of them are visionaries like Magellan, and they will inspire the rest to contribute to the most significant project that the human race has ever attempted.

Be a part of the solution.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.

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