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Title    : One Giant Leap: The Search For Intelligent Life
Author : unknown
Date    :


The truth is out there. WAY out there. In fact, it's about to leave the solar
We're talking about the "peace plaque," a greeting card from Earthlings to
extraterrestrials that was attached to space probes Pioneer 10 and 11.

Sent out in 1971 and 72, respectively, the Pioneer probes are the first
man-made objects to leave the solar system for a journey through interstellar

Will some alien race find the "peace plaques" and return the greeting? Even
their creator, the late Carl Sagan, rated the chances of that happening as
"negligible." The same fate probably awaits the two Voyager probes sent in
1977, both of which contain a phonograph recording filled with pictures and
music from Earth.

With all those "billions and billions" of galaxies out there, you have to
wonder why we haven't heard a peep from ET.

Of course, maybe we have. Some conspiracy theorists believe NASA is part of a
larger plot to conceal the truth about aliens. They point to a 1969 Federal
regulation that assigns NASA officials the right to quarantine persons for up
to one year in prison without a hearing for making "unofficial" contact with
aliens. The so-called "Extraterrestrial Exposure Law" is the smoking gun, say
the paranormally-inclined, that links NASA to a conspiracy to silence UFO

And, while we're at it, let's not forget the face. You remember the face,
don't you? Supposedly, the face (pictured left) was just an illusion, a
photographic mirage of a Martian butte taken by NASA's Viking spacecraft in

A likely story, some say. After all, the picture appeared in the year of the
Bicentennial and it only makes sense that an American government about to
celebrate its 200th birthday would want to suppress the truth about
extraterrestrial life in order to avoid being upstaged.

Or does it make sense?

The counter-argument is this: why would NASA, with its constant budget
worries, want to suppress the one fact that would guarantee financial support
for their agency? In addition, to believe the space program is part of a
larger conspiracy ignores the very real efforts NASA has made to establish
whether life exists beyond planet Earth and the not-inconsiderable flak they
have taken for doing so.

>From the very start, NASA involvement in matters involving aliens have been
controversial. It all began with the "peace plaques"-an idea dreamed up by
the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan. "We do not know if the message will ever
be found or decoded," Sagan explained in Science in 1972, "but its inclusion
on the Pioneer 10 spacecraft seems to us a hopeful symbol of a vigorous
civilization on Earth."

But the response to the plaques turned out to be anything but civilized.
Sagan's "message from mankind"-which was etched onto gold-anodized plate and
attached to the twin Pioneer probes -depicted, among other things, Earth's
place in the solar system, the trajectory of the Pioneer spacecraft, and what
human beings looked like without their clothes on (pictured right).

Predictably, the latter touched off a firestorm of controversy. Some
newspapers airbrushed out the couple's private parts. Others accused NASA of
sending smut into space. Even a few feminists got into the act, arguing the
image appeared to depict a woman who was subservient to a man.

NASA, much to their credit, ignored the brickbats and launched the Pioneers
with the plaques attached. Among their accomplishments: taking the first
photographic surveys of Jupiter and Saturn.

NASA, surprisingly enough, later lent its support to another Sagan endeavor.
This time, he put together a more-thorough record of human accomplishment-a
kind of encyclopedia for extraterrestrials-to be included on the launch of
twin Voyager space probes in 1977. Sagan and his colleagues included 118
photographs and 90 minutes of music on the record, including Chuck Berry's
immortal "Johnny B. Goode."

The agency's last brush with contacting ET occurred in 1982 when NASA devoted
a portion of their budget to Frank Drake's SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence) project. Drake (pictured left) proposed monitoring sounds via
giant antennas to pick up possible signals sent from aliens in faraway

Although Drake predicted contact by the year 2000, he didn't win any friends
in Congress when he began to describe his vision of possible life-forms in
other solar systems. "I suspect they'll have their heads on top, as we do,
and walk upright," he told Omni magazine in 1982, "but I hope that
intelligent extraterrestrial have four arms instead of two. Two aren't
enough, in my opinion."

The undertaking became a lightning rod for criticism. After weathering much
abuse and being accused of wasting taxpayers' money, NASA was forced to stop
funding SETI in 1993. Private funding now keeps the project alive (see link

Understandably, in a "Chicken Little" year like 1999, officials at NASA are a
little publicity-shy about any and all extraterrestrial matters. It seems no
matter how sincere their efforts, they are destined to be misinterpreted,
condemned, or end up as the next plot device on a future episode of The

Is anybody out there? The evidence seems to suggest that ET hasn't phoned
home yet. But, for those who want to believe, there's no reason to lose
faith. After all, somewhere in the farthest reaches of the universe right
now, Chuck Berry is ready to rock the house.

In 1983, Pioneer 10 became the first man-made object to leave the solar
system. It is now searching for the edges of interstellar space with its
peace plaque intact, despite its NC-17 rating. Read more here about the 25th
anniversary of the celebrated space probe.

SETI's Seth Shostak tells us the "peace plaque" is "a bit like hoping to
discover Indians by putting messages in bottles and throwing them into the
Spanish surf." His organization recently announced a more aggressive approach
to making contact: SETI@home.

The Planetary Society is lending its support to SETI@home, a screensaver
program that will use the power of home and office computers to help search
for radio signals from ET. The society is a nonprofit, nongovernmental
organization dedicated to space exploration.

The "Extraterrestrial Exposure Law" was passed (curiously enough) on July 16,
1969, the day of the Apollo 11 launch, but it has since been repealed. For
more details, check out this site from CNI. By the way, CNI stands for
Contact with Non-human Intelligence.





� Layout Copyright 1998 Adam Finzel - Articles are copyright of the authors