extraterrestrial intelligence, procedures following first contact

The extraordinary importance of the discovery of signals from another civilization in space has led scientists, engineers, lawyers, politicians, and others around the world to debate what course of action should be taken in the event of an unequivocal detection. Campaigning in the late 1960s by Rudolph Pesek of the Czech Academy of Sciences led the International Academy of Astronautics to set up a SETI Committee with Pesek as its first chairman. This met for the first time at the Academy's Vienna Congress in 1971 and has held two sessions at every annual congress since. Over time, the practice emerged of devoting one of the sessions to the science and technology of SETI and the other to the international, societal, political, legal, and media aspects of the search for, and the consequences of discovery of, intelligent extraterrestrial life. Two issues, in particular, have demanded special attention: (a) the protocols to be followed by researchers following a confirmed detection, and (b) how and if to respond to the signaling civilization. A subcommittee was established to address these. In 1989, it produced a document called "Declaration of Principles Concerning Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence" which was subsequently endorsed by a number of international astronomical organizations, including the International Astronomical Union. More recently, in another document titled "A Decision Process for Examining the Possibility of Sending Communications to Extraterrestrial Civilizations", the subcommittee has put forward recommendations on the issue of response which have been similarly endorsed.