With Jodie Foster's Support, SETI to Resume Search for Aliens

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About 300 miles outside of San Francisco, dozens of giant antennas sit unused in an open field. A dream of the SETI Institute for decades, construction on the Allen Telescope Array began in 2004 after three years of planning and about $30 million in donations from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, for whom the array is named. Before funding dried up and the plug was pulled this past April, SETI used those massive antennas to monitor the skies, listening for signs of life, hoping to discover extraterrestrial intelligence.

Story continues after the gallery.

In order to get the array running again, more than 2,500 individual donors gave a total of $222,000 to the SETIStars program, which debuted in early June. "It is clear that SETI Institute's mission resonated with people the world over -- that the questions we seek to answer are universal," SETI wrote in an introductory message for the program's launch. "Without even asking for it, the public responded almost immediately with offers to help, and donations began flowing in. But until now we haven't had a way to focus this interest and show of support, nor to allow the people at large to specifically support the ATA."

Once they were able, people from all over the world opened their wallets. SETIStars even earned the support of a few high-profile contributors, including actress Jodie Foster, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, and others profiled in the gallery embedded above. With money in hand, SETI plans to restart its search sometime next month.

The funds raised by the SETIStars program should keep the array alive through the end of the year. At that point, the SETI Institute is hoping that it will have secured additional funding from the United States Air Force. While the Air Force isn't throwing public support behind the search for extraterrestrial life -- a strangely political cause, especially during tough economic times, when many feel spending money to find aliens should be more wisely spent -- it could use SETI's help in tracking space debris that has the ability to damage satellites. It takes about $2.5 million to cover the array's annual staffing and operating costs.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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