AAS 201st Meeting, January, 2003
Session 29. HAD II: History of IDEAS on Extraterrestrial Life
Special, Monday, January 6, 2003, 10:00-11:30am, 612

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[29.04] From Ozma to Cyclops: The Beginnings of American SETI, 1959-70

W. T. Sullivan (U. Washington)

The modern era in SETI (Search for Extraterrstrial Intelligence) began with two independent proposals in the late 1950s. In 1959 Phillip Morrison and Guiseppe Cocconi at Cornell published a short theoretical paper in ``Nature," while simultaneously Frank Drake at the brand-new NRAO in West Virginia developed a receiver for the first radio observations, called Project Ozma. In 1960 Drake monitored two nearby solar-like stars, Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani, for several months with a scanning one-channel radiometer at 21-cm on an 85-ft diameter dish. Drake's interest, along with that of his boss Otto Struve, then led to a remarkable small meeting at Green Bank in 1961, at which time the Drake Equation was first put forth as an organizing concept for estimating the possible number of extraterrestrial civilizations.

The next milestone was the appearance of ``Intelligent Life in the Universe" by Iosif Shklovsky and Carl Sagan (1966), which widely circulated the idea of SETI. The growth of NASA's exobiology program (although primarily focused on microbial life and the origin of life) throughout the 1960s also legitimized the field and culminated in the Viking mission to Mars in 1976. In 1970 NASA sponsored a large summer workshop charged with the task of designing a feasible radio telescope for SETI. The resulting report, ``Project Cyclops: A Design Study of a System for Detecting Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life" (1971), was the first detailed look at all aspects of the problem, and set the tone for future NASA involvement in SETI.

This talk will briefly cover this history, in particular the radio astronomy aspects, and will include a portion of a tape recording of a talk given by Drake in 1960 even as Project Ozma was in progress.

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