LITTLE FERRY, NJ.., June 21, 1997 -- The film "Contact," which opens in just three weeks, promises to be a boon to the scientific Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), according to a leading SETI scientist. "We are confident the popularity of this film will help to fuel public interest in real SETI," says Dr. H. Paul Shuch, executive director of the non-profit, membership-supported SETI League. Based upon Carl Sagan's 1985 novel, the Warner Brothers film details the discovery of extra-terrestrial intelligent life by a fictional Government program called Project Argus. The SETI League's Project Argus sky survey, launched when Congress canceled NASA's SETI program, "is a very different animal," notes Shuch. "Ours is a grass-roots effort of the world's radio hams and amateur astronomers."
The SETI program described in the novel and film represents how the search for intelligent extra-terrestrial life might have been carried out, had Congress allowed NASA to continue an effort begun in 1992. "Shortly before his untimely death, Sagan jokingly accused me of stealing his project name," says Shuch. "I told him, no, I stole it from the same source you did, Arthur C. Clarke's earlier novel Imperial Earth. Any plagiarism is justified if it keeps the search alive." In fact, Clarke serves on the advisory board of The SETI League, "and still chides me for stealing his label," Shuch readily admits.
Shuch also admits to what he calls "a difference in priorities" between his organization and the motion picture industry: "The movie 'Contact' was made on a $95 Million budget. That would be enough to finance The SETI League's operations for about 600 years. In fact, all the world's SETI programs could run in perpetuity, on just the interest generated from $95 Million wisely invested." Still, he feels the money is well spent if it raises public consciousness as to the importance of SETI research.
SETI scientists seek to determine through microwave and optical measurements whether humankind is alone in the universe. Since Congress terminated NASA's SETI funding in 1993, The SETI League and other scientific groups have been attempting to privatize the research. Experimenters interested in participating in the search for intelligent alien life, or citizens wishing to help support it, should email to join_at_setileague_dot_org, check the SETI League Web site at http://www.setileague.org/, send a fax to +1 (201) 641-1771, or contact The SETI League, Inc. membership hotline at +1 (800) TAU-SETI. Be sure to provide us with a postal address to which we will mail further information. The SETI League, Inc. is a membership-supported, non-profit [501(c)(3)], educational and scientific corporation dedicated to the electromagnetic Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
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