Nestled in a field 290 miles northeast of San Francisco, the Allen Telescope Array has been dormant since budget cuts forced the SETI Institute to take the facility offline last April. Instead of continuing the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, the array’s 42 radio telescopes now dot the landscape like strange ruins of a lost civilization.
That was the case, at least, until the SETI Institute announced that thanks to their recent fundraising efforts, the ATA would get a new lease on life next month.
$200,000 was raised through the institute’s SETIStars initiative, with names like Jodie Foster and Apollo astronaut Bill Anders popping up on the donor list. An unspecified amount of money will also be supplied by the U.S. Air Force, ensuring another few month’s worth of E.T. searching should the deal go through.
It’s a promising re-start for SETI, but there’s no guarantee that the array will keep running. The facility costs an average of $1.5 million to operate each year, with most of its funding coming from government sources. The insitute has already shown that it has some friends with deep pockets, but the array’s future seems shaky past 2011.
Fan as I am of all things space-related (and as someone who saw Contact over 12 times), I hope they manage to keep their collective ears to the stars for as long as they can. Searching for extraterrestrial life may seem frivolous to some, but think what a day it would be if those radio telescopes picked up something worth listening to. Unfortunately, the financial reality of the situtation means that dedicated space junkies may have to take what we can get.