Lacking Funding, SETI Puts $50 Million Radio Array On Hiatus

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Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence has always been a slightly controversial topic, not because we don’t want it to happen, but because it requires sophisticated and expensive equipment. Can millions really be spent on scanning the heavens when here on earth, there’s a very real shortage of funding for things like education and social services? It’s a loaded question, of course, and a complex one, but the undeniable truth of it is that programs like SETI are considered non-critical, and in times like these, they’re on the short list for gutting.

SETI’s Allen Telescope Array has suspended operations as of last week, with officials citing a lack of cash to keep the $50 million facility manned and powered. They’re looking at a shortfall of about $5 million over two years. Senior astronomer Seth Shostak said: “We have the radio antennae up, but we can’t run them without operating funds. Honestly, if everybody contributed just 3 extra cents on their 1040 tax forms, we could find out if we have cosmic company.”

Sure, and if GE had written off 1% less of its taxes, or if the troop count was reduced here or there by a few thousand, or… you see, it’s easy to come up with solutions on paper. But SETI is viewed as recreational, and those millions could be keeping a few school districts afloat.

The whole program isn’t shutting down, of course, and services like SETI@home and SETIquest are still operational. If you want to help crunch data, you can.

Personally, I’m not too worried about it, though of course I’d rather we were listening. My feeling is that if something out there wants to contact us, we’re going to hear it whether our primitive radio arrays are on or off. And then, of course, there’s also Calvin’s view:

[via SlashGear; image source: Gary Reyes/Mercury News]