NASA and Congress have repeatedly impeded the search for alien technosignatures. Or at least that’s the gist of a new white paper endorsed by 42 leading researchers in the field and submitted to the National Academy of Sciences’ 2020 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (Astro2020).
For decades now, NASA has nurtured and funded a growing community of astrobiologists. But as Penn State University astronomer Jason Wright points out in the paper, technosignature searchers still receive almost no federal support in the U.S. As a result, Wright, the paper’s lead author, notes that the field is hamstrung by having only a very small pool of trained practitioners capable of searching for evidence of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations via astronomical means. Wright hopes that both Congress and NASA will step up and begin providing technosignature searches with the same support.
The burning question most of the general public wants answered is not whether the cosmos is filled with interstellar pond scum. But rather, is the galaxy rife with big-headed E.T.s that just love scooting from star to star in minimalistic spacecraft?
Yet NASA’s current reluctance to fund radio or optical SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and/or technosignature searches largely stems from being burned by Congress twice before.
“In 1978 Sen. William Proxmire [D-Wis.] gave the NASA SETI program one of his “Golden Fleece” awards and successfully ended it,” Wright notes in his paper. The NASA SETI program was restored in October 1992 as the euphemistically-titled High-Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS). But Wright notes that it was “suddenly and surprisingly cut in September 1993 via a successful, last-minute amendment by Sen. Richard Bryan [D-Nev.], who proudly announced ‘this hopefully will be the end of Martian hunting at the taxpayer’s expense’.”