In June, SETI and its fans in Silicon Valley organized a website for donations called SETIstars
Back in April of this year, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) was temporarily shut down due to reduced federal dollars and a state budget crisis. But after receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from fans, SETI is now back in action.
SETI, which is located in Mountain View, California, searches the skies for extraterrestrial life through the use of the Allen Telescope Array located 290 miles northeast of San Francisco. There are 42 telescopes that measure 20-feet-wide in this array, and they operate 24 hours per day. Research and development of the telescopes began in 2001 after a $11.5 million contribution from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and construction of the telescopes began in 2004 after a $13.5 million donation from Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen. The Allen Telescope Array became fully functional in 2007.
On April 22, 2011, lack of funding put the telescopes on hold. SETI CEO Tom Pierson even described staff cuts that would take place. Loss of funding from the University of California at Berkeley was the biggest financial hit, since it was SETI’s partner in operating the array.
But believers of the unknown didn’t take this lying down. In June, SETI and its fans in Silicon Valley organized a website for donations called SETIstars. By August 3, the site had $200,000 in donations, which is what SETI needed to continue operations. Since then, another $4,000 in contributions have rolled in.
“We’re not completely out of the woods yet, but everybody’s smiling here,” said Pierson. “We think we’re going to come out of hibernation and be solid for the next five months or so, and during those five months we’re going to take care of calendar year 2013 and put that under our belt.”
A few big names that contributed to SETIstars were Larry Niven, science fiction writer who created the “Ringworld” series; Bill Anders, Apollo 8 astronaut who flew around the moon in 1968; and Jodie Foster, actress who portrayed a SETI researcher in the movie “Contact.”
“It is absolutely irresponsible of the human race not to be searching for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence,” wrote Anders in a message with his donation.
While this $200,000+ has helped pull SETI out of hibernation, it’s not the end of the financial line needed to get SETI into the clear. Pierson noted that the institute is looking to cut operating costs and the cost of science operations, which equates to about $2.5 million annually. A new operating model is needed now that UC Berkeley is out of the picture.
In the future, SETI astronomers hope to use the Allen Telescope Array to listen for signals from NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting mission, which identifies planetary systems. But this project would need about $5 million in order to be pursued. Also, Pierson hopes to work with the U.S. Air Force, who could use the array to track “orbital objects” that may be a threat to satellites.
Until then, SETI researchers are just happy to have an operational telescope array once again.