Worlds of David Darling
Encyclopedia of Science
Home > Encyclopedia of Science

Billingham, John (1930–2013)

John Billingham
John Billingham was an English-born aerospace physician and SETI pioneer. Billingham originated the idea for Project Cyclops1 and, in 1984, became Chief of the Life Sciences Division at NASA Ames Research Center. He currently chairs the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Committee and is a Senior Scientist at the SETI Institute. Having obtained his M.A. from Oxford and a medical degree from Guy's Hospital, London (1954), he specialized in aviation medicine and physiology for the RAF in England before coming to the United States in 1963 to take charge of the Environmental Physiology Branch at the Johnson Space Center. Three years later, he moved to Ames, becoming Chief of the Extraterrestrial Research Division in 1976 and also Acting Chief of the Program Office for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – the first person in the US to head a government unit officially concerned with extraterrestrial intelligence. Beginning in the 1960s, he worked to establish SETI as a legitimate NASA activity, was instrumental in organizing the studies which formed the basis of Project Cyclops, and became codirector of that Project with Bernard Oliver. His early views on space travel and life in space were influenced by reading H. G. Wells and attending meetings of the British Interplanetary Society, and later by Sagan and Shklovskii's book, Intelligent Life in the Universe.2, 3, 4, 5


  1. Billingham, J., and Oliver, B. M. "Project Cyclops: A Design Study of a System for Detecting Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life," Moffett Field, Calif.: NASA/Ames Pub. CR-114445 (1972).
  2. Billingham, John, ed. Life in the Universe, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press (1981).
  3. Billingham, J. "The Demography of Extraterrestrial Civilizations." In L. G. Napolitano, ed., Space: Mankind's Fourth Environment. New York: Pergamon Press (1983).
  4. Billingham, J., Heyns, R., Milne, D., et al. Social Implications of Detecting an Extraterrestrial Civilization: A Report of the Workshop on the Cultural Aspects of SETI. Mountain View, Calif.: SETI Institute (1994).
  5. Swift, David. SETI Pioneers: Scientists Talk About Their Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Tucson: University of Arizona Press (1990).

Related category

   • SETI