The resumption of operations at California’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) was made possible by donations from celebrity supporters including Jodie Foster.
Following an appeal on the website of the Allen Telescope Array project, named after its first financial backer, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, donations from more than 2,200 supporters – known as SETIStars – meant the institute easily reached its $200,000 initial fund-raising goal.
Miss Foster has made several films about alien life, including Contact in 1997, about an SETI astronomer who makes radio contact with extraterrestrials. She is due to star as the head of an alien planet in District 9 director Neill Blomkamp’s latest blockbuster Elysium, which is planned for release in 2013.
She has also indicated that she plans to direct a science fiction film once her current commitments have ended.
In a post on the SETIStar website, Miss Foster said she was supporting it because “we need to return it to the task of searching newly discovered planetary worlds for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence”.
“In Carl Sagan’s book/movie Contact, a radio signal from a distant star system ends humanity’s cosmic isolation and changes our world,” she said.
“The Allen Telescope Array could turn science fiction into science fact, but only if it is actively searching the skies. I support the effort to bring the array out of hibernation.”
Another SETIStar is Larry Niven, the science fiction writer who penned books including the multi award-winning Ringworld, The Magic Goes Away and The Draco Tavern.
“Finding intelligent tool users would reset all parameters. All of human history would look like a preface,” he said on the SETIStars website.
Astronomers and astronauts are also supporting the project, including former Apollo 8 crewman Bill Anders, who said on the website that it would be “absolutely irresponsible” not to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.