NASA scientists hope to hear the elusive ET

September 01, 1992|By Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- On Columbus Day, federal scientists plan to launch the world's most ambitious attempt to search for signs of intelligent alien life. But in the intervening six weeks, scientists have said, the project could be hobbled by a pending federal budget cut.

The $100 million, 10-year NASA plan to search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been a frequent target for budget attack. As project manager Michael Klein said yesterday, "It has a high giggle factor."

But NASA is serious about the project to search for radio signals from other worlds, saying that the technology is already proving to be useful to a variety of other fields, that it has great value in exciting schoolchildren's interest in science, and that it stands a chance of answering one of the most profound questions humans have asked.

Scientists described yesterday the imminent danger to the long-planned, always-threatened project here after an all-day session on searching for extraterrestrials at the World Space Congress, a weeklong meeting on space exploration.

Funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration project, now called the High-Resolution Microwave Search, was eliminated earlier this summer from the House version of the budget in a late-night voice vote in a nearly empty chamber. The Senate voted to restore full funding, and the issue will be resolved in a conference committee later this month.

If all goes as planned on Columbus Day, an antenna at Goldstone, Calif., that had been part of NASA's deep-space network to track planetary spacecraft will be switched on in its new role. Simultaneously, a new computerized, multi-channel receiver mounted in a trailer will be switched on at the world's largest radiotelescope in Puerto Rico.

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