NASA hasn’t ‘just’ hired 24 theologians to study future discovery of aliens

18 January 2022
What was claimed

NASA just hired 24 theologians to assess how the world would react if we discovered alien life.

Our verdict

NASA did fund a programme undertaken by 24 theologians to study how major religions would react to the discovery of alien life, but did not directly hire the academics. The NASA funding for the programme ended in 2017.

A number of posts on social media claim that NASA has “just hired” 24 theologians in order to study how humans would react if scientists discovered alien life, with the suggestion that it had done so to prepare for imminent contact with aliens.  

As other fact checkers have written, the social media posts emerged following an article published by The Times on 22 December titled ‘Heavens above: Nasa enlists priest to prepare for an alien discovery’. 

The fact that NASA had hired the theologians was also reported towards the end of 2021 by Unilad and Dazed

The Times article features an interview with Dr Andrew Davison, a priest and theologian based at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity, who was one of 24 theologians to have worked at a NASA-funded programme at the Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI) in Princeton, USA. 

The programme, The Times reports, did look at how major world religions would react to the news of the discovery of alien life. However, this work took place between 2016 and 2017, and the 24 academics were not directly hired by NASA. 

A NASA spokesperson told Check Your Fact: “The NASA-funded portion of this research concluded in 2017, and the researchers involved in this study were selected exclusively by CTI. 

“NASA was not involved in the selection of researchers for this study, and individuals who receive grant funding from NASA are not employees, advisors, or spokespersons for the agency. Thus, the researchers and scholars involved with this study were not hired by NASA, but instead received funding through CTI to conduct this work.”

Image courtesy of Laurenz Heymann, via Unsplash. 

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because it is true that 24 theologians did study this topic, but they were not hired by NASA and the described programme ended in 2017.

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