By Jason McClellan | OpenMinds
A former NASA official who helped initiate the government’s search for intelligent extraterrestrial life died on August 4 at the age of 83.
Dr. John Billingham studied medicine and received his degree in physiology at Oxford University in his native country of England. After serving in the Royal Air Force, Dr. Billingham headed the Environmental Physiology Branch at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where he worked on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. When he moved to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California in 1965, he led the Biotechnology Division, (followed by the Extraterrestrial Research Division, then later the Life Science Division) where he was first introduced to the field of exobiology, now known as astrobiology.
Billingham was fascinated by the idea of scanning the skies with radio telescopes for signals from far away civilizations. According to the SETI Institute, “Billingham joined with Barney Oliver – then director of research and development at the Hewlett Packard corporation – to organize a joint summer design study of the technology and science of SETI. Two dozen academics spent three months considering what sort of equipment was needed to make a serious, systematic search for signals, and where they should point the antennas.
Their conclusions, published as ‘Project Cyclops,’ became the bible of SETI research for decades to come, and are still important today.”
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