PAGE 10 • MARCH 5, 2003 • THE INTERMOUNTAIN NEWS

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Hat Creek

Observatory

 

 

Editor:

 

The following is a copy of

my December 31, 2002 letter

to Hat Creek District Ranger

Deb Romberger regarding

the Allen Telescope Array

Project at the Hat Creek

Observatory.

 

Dear Ms. Romberger:

 

Thank you for sending me a

copy of the Allen Telescope

Array (ATA) Environmental

Assessment report.

 

A longtime SETI colleague

and I went over the document

very carefully and we have

the following comments to

make.

 

As far as environmental

impact issues are concerned,

the report seems very thorough

and complete. However,

we are puzzled by the

total omission of anything

in the document regarding

the question of past ethical

behavior of the SETI Institute.

Information on this issue

was presented at the August

28, 2002 meeting at Hat

Creek. We are also disturbed

by the perfunctory way in

which the National Forest

Service determined answers

to some of the questions

from the meeting and then

categorized them all as nonsignificant.

 

There are important concerns

here, and it involves

the honesty and scientific

integrity of people and organizations

that want to use

federal land, and I implore

the National Forest Service

to get the facts.

 

Some of us who had

worked on the now extinct

NASA search for extraterrestrial

intelligence (SETI)

project including a NASA civil

servant have come forward

to tell the NASA Inspector

General (IG) that there is

scientific fraud going on with

this endeavor.

 

The investigation concerned

the nonprofit SETI

Institute and the NASA Ames

Research Center that were

responsible for building

special purpose SETI signal

processing equipment to

detect artificial radio signals

from the nearest 1000 solar

type stars.

 

Equipment would then be

taken to major radio observatories

around the world

to complete the proposed

search. When Congress

ended funding for the project

in 1993, the SETI Institute

(prime contractor for NASA

SETI) became custodians of

the equipment under a longterm

loan agreement and

they still have it.

 

We all told the IG and gave

them extensive documentation

that there were major

problems with the equipment

from the beginning, particularly

with the Multi-Channel-

Spectrum-Analyzer (MCSA)

that NASA had invested

something like 30 million dollars

in.

 

The equipment was not

field ready in 1992 but NASA

and the SETI Institute took

the equipment to the Arecibo

Observatory and went on to

tell the world that the greatest

SETI search was underway,

and that the equipment was

working flawlessly.

 

It was a total and complete

fabrication. Many senior

engineers and scientists told

us after this first deployment

that the MCSA was fundamentally

flawed and should

be discarded.

 

Instead, a two year effort

was made to fix the equipment

and the SETI Institute

proceeded to deploy in 1995

to the Parkes Observatory in

Australia.

 

There were again major

problems with the MCSA and

the scientific observations

were misrepresented. These

realities were not told to the

public or to the private donors

or mentioned in any publications.

There is no reason to

believe that anything has

changed since 1995 with any

of the subsequent deployments.

Apparently scientific

integrity does not count with

this organization, but world

wide publicity to enhance

fundraising does.

 

During the 5 year investigation,

the IG also determined

that the SETI Institute

had violated import/export

laws, had modified the government

equipment without

permission and in general

had not lived up to the loan

agreement with NASA.

At one point the IG took

the case to the San Jose

Justice Department but they

declined to pursue it since

senior NASA officials were

aware of the situation. The

SETI Institute has been

audited and reprimanded 3

times by the NASA Inspector

General.

Is the past history of the

SETI Institute and its supporters

any guide to what is

going on today with the proposed

ATA that is supposed

to advance SETI research in

a big way?

 

This is the question the

National Forest Service

should be asking. The University

of California is well

aware of SETI’s past history.

Professor Jack Welch of UC

Berkeley, the former director

of the Hat Creek Observatory

was a SETI advisor to

NASA for over 20 years, is on

the board of directors of the

SETI Institute and is married

to Dr. Jill Tarter who directs

SETI operations at the SETI

Institute.

 

Hat Creek is a marginal

site to build a radio observatory

for SETI observations.

The president of the SETI

Institute, Dr. Frank Drake

agrees with me, as does the

director of the University of

California SETI project, Dr.

Dan Werthimer.

 

Here are the reasons.

A site at lower geographical

latitude is preferable for

astronomical reasons. The

high winds at Hat Creek will

degrade antenna sensitivity

and may destroy the antenna

facility as happened in 1993.

Snow will increase antenna

maintenance costs and will

reduce the life cycle of the

antennas. Nearby inhabitants

and vehicular traffic with cellular

and satellite phones will

cause radio frequency interference

to SETI observations

since they will have a direct

line-of-sight pathway into the

radio telescope.

 

Finally, the low east and

west horizons will allow a

number of geostationary

satellites that transmit at frequencies

important to SETI

to cause interference. A deep

valley going north/south is

desirable. Why Hat Creek

then? an organization that

can associate itself with the

University of California will

appear more viable and credible

to everyone.

 

When the SETI Institute

says they are constructing an

equivalent 112 meter diameter

radio telescope they are

misleading the public.

It is all about antenna

sensitivity for a given amount

of antenna collecting area.

When one factors in the

much higher system temperature,

the wideband feed

losses, the lower antenna

efficiency, off axis beam

losses and phase array loses,

the antenna looks more like

a 40 meter radio telescope

and would be of little value

to SETI or to traditional radio

astronomy.

 

The ATA has never been

analyzed from end-to-end

with a computer model or

described in IEEE journals.

I have had many conservations

with antenna engineers

at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

regarding future designs

for the NASA Deep Space

Network of antennas and the

small antenna concept does

not seem to be in their plans.

Their 1994 report (Synthesis

of a Large Communication

Aperture using Small Antennas)

clearly rejects this idea

as not being cost effective.

The makeup of the Lassen

National Forest interdisciplinary

team with its predominance

of people from the

University of California is

troubling to us.

 

How can the organization

applying for use of federal

land be involved in the evaluation

process? It is evident

that calling ATA world class,

answers to the question of

peer review of the ATA and

the meaning of the 1993 Congressional

SETI resolution

prohibiting federal resources

for this endeavor came

straight from the University

of California/SETI Institute

and were not independently

researched by the National

Forest Service.

 

Who says this is a worldclass

radio telescope? Why

isn’t anybody else building

one? Who is the peer review

committee? Who picked

them? Do they have a vested

interest in the ATA?

 

We are all familiar with the

peer review committees from

the NASA SETI days when

Dr. Tarter was Chief Scientist

and how the oversight committees

collectively failed in

their mission to NASA.

 

The search for radio emissions

from extraterrestrial

civilizations is one of the

most intellectually stimulating

and potentially rewarding

pursuits open to humanity.

Throughout the four-decade

history of this enterprise,

much discussion has

taken place on how to detect

interstellar radio signals.

 

In actual fact, however,

very little systematic observational

exploration has been

performed. There is great

need for a radio telescope

dedicated to SETI research.

We however believe that

the present individuals and

organizations with their past

record of mismanagement

and deception are not the

right ones to move SETI

forward. They should not

be allowed to use National

Forest land.

 

Robert Krekorian

Ashland, OR

 

 

 

PAGE 10 • MARCH 5, 2003 • THE INTERMOUNTAIN NEWS