It sits nestled in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget, drawing a scant one-tenth of 1 percent of the $15 billion total, yet the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is singled out on an almost annual basis for congressional flagellation. And this year is no exception--even as NASA gears up for the October inception of a 10-year effort to tune in radio signals from advanced alien civilizations.

The problem for SETI, congressional staffers say, is the "giggle factor." They say it's easy for representatives to get their names in print by taking cheap shots at the program, linking it with a search for little green men and flying saucers.

In fact, that was exactly the approach used by Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) when he successfully engineered the elimination of funding for SETI, via a recently passed House authorization bill for fiscal year 1993. "This is a program that the...

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