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The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence offers benefits for all nations. The search would certainly be facilitated by, and may even require, international cooperation. It is a serious exploration, as important as any ever undertaken, and surely of larger scope than the journeys to the Earth's poles early in the century. We can hope for relatively quick results, but must prudently prepare for a protracted effort. The program must be kept open and public in the spirit of international science and exploration. We can and should expect growing cooperation with investigators from many countries, both those already displaying interest and activity, as the Soviet Union and Canada, and others whose interest would grow.

SETI is not only a response to the spirit of exploration but is natural to the metaphysical view of modern man. The question “Are we alone?” is pertinent to the entire species, both to us and our descendants.

International cooperation is essential to solving the radio frequency interference problem discussed above. Furthermore, it is possible that antennas may be required at various places throughout the world or in space: a system beyond the borders of any single nation. It seems clear to us that the SETI effort should be cast as a cooperative international endeavor at the start and that appropriate international relationships should be established through existing or novel international organizational arrangements. Joint funding is a desirable goal for such an approach. In any case the extended period which may be required for the detection of extraterrestrial intelligence much less communication - emphasizes the need for organizational and cultural support more enduring than typically characteristic of national programs.

There may be a particular opportunity for joint Soviet and U.S. efforts in the SETI. The Soviets have already begun a preliminary search. Their published discussion of this problem indicates that considerable interest exists within the scientific community there (see Section III-11). The USSR is capable of substantial space technology should that prove important in the future. Finally, joint leadership of an international SETI program by the U.S. and the Soviet Union might constitute a logical continuation of the cooperative endeavors in space initiated by the Keldysh-Low agreements most recently responsible for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program.

West European nations, especially West Germany, Holland, and England, have also evidenced increasing interest in new radio astronomical endeavors. Thus, the possibility of initiating a SETI program through bilateral or multilateral arrangements involving the U.S. warrant consideration as well.

The United States Can Lead in the SETI Endeavor

The United States has frequently demonstrated the will and foresight to take the initiative in programs of worldwide benefit. The U.S. space program has provided not only excitement and

scientific knowledge, but numerous practical satellite services not for this country alone, but for the whole world. It is in this same spirit of providing a focal point for international cooperation and support that we feel the U.S. can and should take the initiative in SETI.

The material, technological and intellectual resources of the U.S. are such that a large-scale SETI program could be carried on indefinitely by this country alone without appreciable drain on the economy. There are good reasons for believing the net effect on the economy could be positive. Even if international cooperation and support were slow to materialize, we believe SETI remains a feasible and worthwhile U.S. endeavor.

The psychology of and mechanisms for international cooperation suggest that an international SETI effort is unlikely until one big nation, such as the U.S., seizes the initiative and invites serious participation by others. It is in this sense of initiative and not in the pursuit of narrow national advantage that we recommend a leading role for the U.S. in SETI.

Initiating the SETI Effort

To carry on a significant United States SETI effort, public funds must be committed explicitly, with the approval of both the legislative and executive branches of the Federal Government. The evolution of an appropriate federal program lies with Congress and the President, but can only follow much preparatory work supported by one or more existing agencies.

We recognize that successful administration of the SETI program will require leadership by an agency with:




a mandate to carry out scientific research and exploration, possibly requiring operations in space;

large scale project management experience;

the ability to successfully involve the U.S. and foreign scientific community in a large scale enterprise;


in-house expertise in the relevant fields of technology; and


long range goals compatible with SETI.

Since NASA clearly meets these criteria it is particularly appropriate for NASA to take the lead in the early activities of a SETI program. SETI is an exploration of the Cosmos, clearly within the intent of legislation that established NASA in 1958. SETI overlaps and is synergistic with long term NASA programs in space astronomy, exobiology, deep space communications and planetary science. NASA is qualified technically, administratively, and practically to develop a national SETI strategy based on thoughtful interaction both with the scientific community and beyond to broader constituencies.

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We therefore recommend that NASA continue its pioneering initiative in studying and planning near-term activities in support of SETI, and we urge that NASA, in cooperation with other agencies, begin the implementation of SETI.

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Thank you for your letter of December 19, 1977 inviting my
comments on our future national space program. I have put
forward my views on various occasions. I am sending herewith
50 copies of a one-page summary of my present views.

Sincerely yours,

R. Pack

John R. Pierce

Professor of Engineering


A Practical Space Program

As the originator of the Fcho communication satellite, and one credited by Arthur Clarke with being the father of satellite communication, I want to be practical about space. My sense of the practical is this:

Our space program should do chiefly those things which the users of space will not do, and do better. The users of space are the communications satellite people, those who need information for navigation, the military surveillance and command and control people, the earth resources people, the weather people. These communities and the supporting aerospace industries are advancing the technologies and effectiveness of their specialties rapidly. NASA must in some measure support such endeavors, but it should also pioneer in areas that others will not enter.

These areas include planetary and other deep-space exploration. This calls for new modes of propulsion such as solar sailing, and for more sophisticated communication and control, data processing and information extraction, including autonomous planetary survey vehicles ("Mars Rover"). The Space Shuttle is a pioneering step toward the lifting and reentry of large loads. Perhaps it will lead to large structures in space, though early profitable use of such structures seems questionable. Perhaps it will lead to very rapid intercontinental travel. The shuttle should be regarded as a beginning, not an end.

NASA should and must give a more-or-less routine type of support to certain government and private agencies. But, the construction and guidance of satellites for many established purposes has become an autonomous art which advances rapidly without further pushing.

Above all, NASA should be supported in the creation and demonstration of truly novel technologies and goals which would not he pursued without adequate government support, and on which we can build a future, intellectual and practical.

J. R. Pierce

Professor of Engineering

California Institute of Technology

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