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Don't abandon the Extraterrestrial search for real aliens life


IN the 17th century, the astronomer Galileo Galilei used a telescope to see new worlds - mountains on the Moon, the crescent shape of Venus, moons orbiting Jupiter. Some of his critics refused to look through his telescope. Now the U.S. Congress is displaying the same anti-science peevishness. Last Friday, a conference committee voted to kill funding for a NASA project that uses radio telescopes to search the universe for inhabitants of other worlds.


While grocery-store tabloids scream about flying saucers, NASA is looking for the real thing. The discovery of real aliens would be one of the most - perhaps the most - incredible discoveries in history. The failure to detect extraterrestrials is also important: It would be evidence that intelligent life is much rarer and, hence, a much more remarkable phenomenon than some biological theories imply.


A year ago, NASA scientists at Mountain View launched their search for real aliens, a program called the High Resolution Microwave Survey, also known as Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI. Its cost for the next year is $12 million - a fraction of the cost of a single $2 billion Seawolf submarine, whose post-Cold War usefulness is limited to being a jobs program for Connecticut shipyards.


Ironically, the extraterrestrial search's economical size, a staff of 100 or so scientists around the country, may have been its undoing. Whereas the space shuttle and space station mean big bucks and job payrolls for politically powerful states such as Texas, Alabama and Florida, the extraterrestrial search was too small to fight back. Congress apparently bought the demagogic objections of U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., who cruelly misrepresented the project as a "great Martian chase." Now, the best chance to save the project is President Clinton.


The extraterrestrial search makes use of America's best technology and our best minds. It excites the imagination, but it has a purpose and a thrifty price tag. Don't abandon the universe, Mr. President.

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER 10/07/93

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