A proposed bill in the United States House of Representatives directs NASA to work with different institutions, whether private or non-profit, to search for other intelligent forms of life.
The bill has yet to undergo clearance from the Congress and the Senate. If passed, however, it would be the first time since 1992 that NASA obtained government funding for the search of extraterrestrial intelligence or most commonly referred to as SETI.
The Proposed Bill
Jill Tarter, former director of the Center for SETI, is optimistic about the proposed bill. The renewed federal interest about SETI was advanced by Lamar Smith, a Republican congressman from Texas.
"NASA shall partner with the private sector and philanthropic organizations to the maximum extent practicable to search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions, in order to meet the NASA objective to search for life's origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe," the bill states.
"Subject to the availability of appropriations, the Administrator shall make available at least $10,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2018 and 2019 for the search for technosignatures."
Meanwhile, as reports of the proposed bill continue to circulate, NASA announced on May 10 that it is awarding five-year grants to three research teams that will study "the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe."
The grants, each approximately $8 million, were given to three teams respectively. In his statement, however, Jim Green, NASA chief scientist, highlights that the teams will help interpret data from "future astrobiology-focused missions."
Astrobiology And Technosignatures
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, NASA participated in SETI efforts through projects such as the Project Orion, the Microwave Observing Project, the High-Resolution Microwave Survey, and Toward Other Planetary Systems. In 1992, the agency decided to initiate a formal and more involved SETI program.
SETI is heavily reliant on finding technosignatures that could signal alien life. Technosignatures are markers of highly intelligent beings that can be detected by telescopes located on the ground or in space. Potential technosignatures are communication signals, which the supposed ancient alien civilization might have used to commune with each other.
A year after 1992, however, Congress canceled the program. In 1998, NASA, instead, launched its astrobiology institute that has since focused on the study of life in the universe through detecting living microorganisms in the solar system.
Just recently, Tarter and other SETI organizations submitted a proposal asking for NASA to recognize SETI as part of the study of astrobiology.