IS ANYONE OUT THERE? The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Frank D. with Dava Sobel Drake

IS ANYONE OUT THERE? The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

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The answer is ""yes,"" says Drake (Astronomy/UC at Santa Cruz), founder of the modern search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), in this likable autobiography told with the assistance of Sobel, former science editor for The New York Times. Drake, who was born in 1930, describes how adolescent rebellion against religion drove him to science, where he developed an early fascination with life in outer space. At Harvard, he became a radio astronomer, and realized that this fledgling science would allow him to scan the heavens for extraterrestrials. At 26, he thought he heard their signals: ""I could barely breathe from excitement, and soon after my hair started to turn white."" Despite this false alarm, in 1960 he started Project Ozma, the first serious SETI endeavor, and soon after joined forces with young Carl Sagan, dolphin expert John Lilly, and others in a professional SETI study group known as ""The Order of the Dolphin."" Drake became director of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, where he encountered terrorists and vampire bats; coined the term ""pulsars""; and, with Sagan, visited an incarcerated Timothy Leary, who requested help in designing spacecraft. In time, bigger and better SETIs ensued, including the infamous plaque of a nude man and woman aboard Pioneer 10, for which Drake incurred the wrath of American prudes and the British Astronomer Royal, who feared that our location had been divulged to bloodthirsty aliens. In Drake's view, the culmination of SETI is the upcoming NASA project to eavesdrop on 28 million radio channels simultaneously. His enthusiasm is infectious as he predicts the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence by the year 2000, which ""will profoundly change the world."" Since SETI has shown only negative results after 30 years, this serves as testimony to both scientific pluck and eternal optimism. A fascinating fife, rich with odd opinions (""I suspect that immortality may he quite common among extraterrestrials"") and a sense of cosmic awe.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Delacorte