If anyone deserves the title “father of the NASA SETI program,” a nearly two decade-long effort, that person would be Dr. John Billingham. He studied medicine at Oxford University in his native England, but eventually moved to the NASA Ames Research Center where he became Chief of the Biotechnology Division and developed technologies for space flight.
While at Ames, Billingham was intrigued by the idea of searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. Inspired by the possibility of implementing a serious search, Billingham went on to start the NASA SETI program, heading that effort from its inception in the 1970s until its cancellation by Congress in 1993. It was during this period of rapid technical development and increased awareness of SETI by both academia and the public that the SETI Institute was founded (1984). He died in 2013.