As the former director of the Center for SETI research, astronomer Jill Tarter has dedicated her career to searching for aliens. She now says that Congress is willing to foot the bill for that research.
New Funding For SETI
In a bill that sets NASA's future, the House of Representatives recently proposed spending $10 million annually on the "search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions."
The proposed spending will exist for the next two fiscal years.
If the bill passes both the House and the Senate, it can only provide suggestions for how agencies can appropriate the funds. Tarter already knows how the agency would use the funds to search for aliens.
"Ten million at once for one year won't do much," Tarter told The Atlantic. "But $10 million a year, as an ongoing funding stream, could do a great deal. It could allow people to build special-purpose instrumentation, and then use it on the sky for a long time."
SETI has a history of searching for radio broadcasts that could have been transmitted by another civilization. It also has searched for aliens using other types of technosignatures, such as telescopes.
Past And Present Politicians Take On SETI
Years ago, when Tarter worked for SETI, Congress fully funded the efforts to search for aliens. That all ended 25 years ago when Senator Richard Bryan led the charge to cut the funding.
"The Great Martian Chase may finally come to an end," said Senator Richard Bryan. "Millions have been spent and we have yet to bag a single little green fellow."
In recent years, searching for alien life has picked up new support. Republican Congressman Lamar Smith from Texas is helping SETI craft the language in the bill. In the past, Smith has not been friendly to the scientific community, and he is a known climate change denier.
Rebranding SETI In The Future
When Congress gutted the budget to search for aliens, scientists had to rely on funding from academic institutions or private donors to continue their research. Since then, NASA has been more focused on searching for biosignatures in space, in particular signs of early microbial life.
Tarter attributes this problem to the stigma associated with SETI after Congress slashed the budget many years ago. She is proposing changing the name from the "search for extraterrestrial intelligence" to the "search for extraterrestrial technology." Tarter believes that the name change will improve the branding for the organization.
"We use technology as a proxy for intelligence," Tarter said.