The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI as it is more commonly known is not used to suddenly getting unexpected attention from the military – at least not as far as we know. But recently the Air Force began expanding its surveillance program not only on Earth, but in space as well – and it seems particularly interested in the Allen Telescope Array, once a key component in the search for extraterrestrial signals from space. So why the sudden interest by the military?
The Air Force, which has taken an increased interest in space ever since the collision of a US and Russian satellite. The use of SETI’s resources will hopefully avoid any future collisions, and track the debris clouds to ensure they do not impact any other satellites at a time when satellite traffic is increasing quite a bit due to increased demand. And the announcement will also benefit SETI, who will now be able to reignite its search in the direction of Kepler-22b, a mysterious Earthlike planet recently discovered that looks to be one of the more promising sources of extraterrestrial life. If Kepler does somehow detect activity emanating from the mysterious world in the form of radio signals, it could usher in a whole new age for mankind. Unfortunately, it may also put a screen of secrecy up if the Air Force decides it is in the interest of National Security to hide their findings.
Space exploration has undertaken a very long and very different sort of journey in space exploration in the last year. With the killing of the space shuttle program, NASA is consolidating its resources in other fields and benefiting immensely in ways previously never thought possible. And yet at the same time, the possibility that the United States will only make it into space either piggybacking from other countries or with the help of private industry has been a point of sorrow for many space enthusiasts who consider the ultimate mission for the west is to eventually spread to other planets.
But perhaps this examination of space from the ground will provide a different sort of motivation one day. Rather than plunging head-first into the unknown SETI offers the opportunity to examine distant stars and seek life without actually exploring them, instead receiving detailed data from the electromagnetic spectrum of distant worlds – a spectrum wherein everything on Earth from radio to X-rays, and even television signals reside. Perhaps with this additional boost from the Air Force, those who have been long loyal assistants to the SETI project and the SETI at home projects will listen in one day and hear the radio signals they have waited so long for. And then the lonely journey into the stars can end with an ultimate goal – to discover another species with which mankind can communicate and develop. We can only hope that just because the funding comes from a military source that the intentions of those looking out into the stars will remain a peaceful one.