Thanksgiving Day in the United States is a time for a reflection, for gathering with family and friends, feasting, and giving thanks for the good things in life. When you work closely with people long enough, they become like a second family. This is especially true if you work long hours away from your real home and family.
Since 1998, our small Project Phoenix team has divided its time between Mountain View where weve been developing a new search system, and Arecibo, Puerto Rico, where twice a year we conduct observations. All told, Project Phoenix takes us away from home for two months a year. Long hours of hard work, both here at the Observatory and in California, have built a level of camaraderie and familiarity within the team. Each person contributes something to the "SETI family."
Jill Tarter, our distinguished chief scientist, does the little things that add a bit of warmth to our home away from home. Jill frequently decorates the control room in a seasonal theme. One Halloween, we found our computer monitors adorned with orange and purple, candy-filled plastic pumpkins. Another year, the forty-foot long trailer containing our search computers was mysteriously festooned with brightly twinkling Christmas lights. Jill also provides the delicious Peets coffee and tea that remind us of our Bay Area homes in northern California while helping us to keep us going through the long nights of observing.
All of us look forward to software engineer Jane Jordans traditional spaghetti dinner, which she cooks for the team a few nights before observations start. Shes also the chief organizer of some of our excursions on days off.
Food takes on extra importance while in the field. During observations, at the end of each first shift, John Ross prepares Jiffy Pop popcorn on the stove near the control room, (No microwave popcorn at a radio telescope!) and shares it with all present, including the telescope operator. At ten oclock on the nose, a Pavlovian reaction sets in as thoughts of warm fluffy popcorn kernels make my mouth water.
This year we will all be away from our families on the mainland, but we are fortunate to have the next best thing. Director of SETI Projects, Mike Davis and his gracious wife Jean lived in Puerto Rico for 26 years while Mike was on the staff of the observatory. During that time they hosted many of us to wonderful dinners at their home or to picnics on the beach. Now they are officially part of the Institute family, and this year they are bringing a complete Thanksgiving celebration to us at the observatory, including the entire meal, some children and grandchildren, too. It will indeed be a family gathering.
So, on behalf of the SETI Institute, I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, from our family to yours.