Scientist Proposes Space Lottery to Fund Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Jacob Haqq-Misra, a research scientist with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, has published a paper in the journal Space Policy that details his plan for funding the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).  The paper, titled Funding the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence with a Lottery Bond, proposes using a lottery system to provide a continued source of funding for the program.

"I propose the establishment of a SETI Lottery Bond to provide a continued source of funding for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)," wrote Haqq-Misra. "The SETI Lottery Bond is a fixed rate perpetual bond with a lottery at maturity, where maturity occurs only upon discovery and confirmation of extraterrestrial intelligent life. Investors in the SETI Lottery Bond purchase shares that yield a fixed rate of interest that continues indefinitely until SETI succeeds---at which point a random subset of shares will be awarded a prize from a lottery pool."

Jacob Haqq-Misra holds a Ph.D. in meteorology and astrobiology from Penn State University, and he completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Rock Ethics Institute.  (Image credit: Blue Marble Space Institute of Science)

Jacob Haqq-Misra holds a Ph.D. in meteorology and astrobiology from Penn State University, and he completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Rock Ethics Institute.  (Image credit: Blue Marble Space Institute of Science)

He also proposes that the shares be transferable, to allow investors to pass their shares on to family or trade them in secondary markets.

According to the scientist, "The total capital raised this way will provide a fund to be managed by a financial institution, with annual payments from this fund to support SETI research, pay investor interest, and contribute to the lottery fund.  Such a plan could generate several to tens of millions of dollars for SETI research each year, which would help to revitalize and expand facilities such as the Allen Telescope Array."

One drawback to this is that the United States does not have financial institutes that are authorized to engage in gaming and banking, which would require the fund to be managed by an offshore investment group.

“There is evidence that lottery bonds are popular in some parts of the world, and further evidence that there is demand for such a product in the US,” added Haqq-Misra.  “A SETI Lottery Bond is a further step toward long-term savings, and it could be a novel way to increase participation in science as well as financial savings.”

SETI has struggled for funding in the past, but the intervention of Russian billionaire Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Listen initiative has helped alleviate some of the stress by putting forward $100 million over a decade to help pay for the first all-sky search, which will involve using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in Australia to search for radio signals..

In addition, SETI has partnered with a private company to help support its own flagship observatory, the Allen Telescope, by sharing time on the array.

"It's a nice deal,” said Haqq-Misra, "because the company pays for all operation costs and taxes, while the SETI Institute gets to use the facility essentially for free 50 percent of the time.”

The hope is that these steps will keep SETI running long enough to allow for a decision to be made on Haqq-Misra's proposal.

Tobias WaylandComment