SETI Institute Hibernates Allen Telescope Array

The SETI Institute announced this week that it lacks the funding to keep its pride and joy, the Allen Telescope Array, up and running. The National Science Foundation awarded the SETI Institute one-tenth of what it gave previously and the State of California slashed funding as well.

SETI Institute CEO Tom Pierson informed donors that the ATA was put into “hibernation.” So it’s sleeping, not searching.

“There is a huge irony,” said SETI Director Jill Tarter, “that at a time when we discover so many planets to look at, we don’t have the operating funds to listen.” *

SETI has been here before. SETI was once under the NASA umbrella, then in 1994 congress eliminated government funding completely. The SETI Institute regrouped as a non-profit and since then has survived on private funding, corporate sponsorship, and grants.

First and foremost, this really burns me up. SETI needs $5 million over the next two years to keep the facility operational. That’s relatively nothing to keep a project like this going, a project that is probing one of the most profound questions humankind has ever asked.

Second, it raises an interesting question about the A Life’s Work. I’ve essentially declared shooting to be over, but does this news warrant going into production again? That joke that keeps coming up (will I finish the film in my lifetime?), when people crack it, they refer to the fact that it’s taking a long time to complete, but the deeper layer is this: given A Life’s Work’s premise (projects may not completed), how will I know when to stop shooting? Should I just keep shooting for the rest of my life? Keep following the cycles of these projects? These were questions I’ve thought about since pre-production and I return to over and over. All of these projects go through periods of hardship and then rebound.

I have footage representing the cycles, I have the subjects talking about them and how they handle them. It is like life, really. And if you’re going to tell a story, you don’t tell a whole life’s story, you tell part of it. The film isn’t called A Whole Life, after all.

What are your thoughts about the ATA going into hibernation?

* Source: SETI Institute suspends search for aliens, By Lisa M. Krieger