Source: NASA Exoplanet and Exploration Program

An audit of the SETI Institute has been performed by the NASA Office of Inspector General.

Over the past 25 years, NASA has, according to Agency officials, provided only three grants totaling $1.6 million for research associated with the direct search for extraterrestrial intelligent life through the use of electromagnetic signals, the OIG report explains.

“It is not clear whether this limited funding is simply because technosignatures research has not been an Agency priority or whether it is due to confusion related to a 1-year congressional prohibition on such research in 1993. The broader scientific community has expressed interest in the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life in the past, as did a House of Representatives NASA authorization bill voted out of Committee in April 2018.”

Technosignatures 101

As noted in the report, technosignatures research is a collective term for scientific searches for intelligent extraterrestrial life and includes—but is not limited to—monitoring electromagnetic radiation for signs of transmissions from civilizations on other planets.

The SETI Institute is only one organization within a broader community of practitioners that conduct technosignatures research. Moreover, the Institute conducts wide-ranging scientific research in multiple disciplines that goes well beyond the search for intelligent life outside of Earth.

Source: NASA OIG presentation of information from “Searching for Good Science: The Cancellation of NASA’s SETI Program,” written by Stephen J. Garber of the NASA History Office and published in the Journal of The British Interplanetary Society, Vol. 52 (1999).

Strong partnership

The upshot from the audit: “The research conducted by the SETI Institute through its 85 awards with NASA has played an important role in advancing understanding of stars, planets, planetary satellites, and astrobiology, all of which reflect the Agency’s science goals and objectives.”

The reports further states: “We found that NASA followed its policies and federal guidelines when it solicited and selected the SETI Institute for these awards, and in turn, the Institute properly accounted for expenditures and complied with federal requirements. As a result, NASA and the Institute have forged a strong partnership and produced valuable data and research benefitting the scientific community.”

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