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Stephen Hawking backs new initiative to find life beyond Earth

A new $100 million initiative backed by a Russian entrepreneur and endorsed by Stephen Hawking has been launched in search of intelligent life beyond Earth.

A new $100 million initiative, backed by a Russian entrepreneur and endorsed by physicist Stephen Hawking, has been launched in search of intelligent life beyond planet Earth.

Billionaire Yuri Milner announced his plans on Monday to fund the “Breakthrough Initiatives” project, a 10-year mission using powerful telescopes to examine nearly 100 galaxies for signals of intelligent life forms.

“Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean,” Hawking said at the launch. “It’s time to commit to finding the answer to search for life beyond earth.”

The primary goal of “Breakthrough Listen” is banking on another potential civilization to send a signal that can be retrieved by the high-powered telescopes.

Some are saying this type of search for extraterrestrial life forms is not an entirely new venture. “I don't think it's all that big of a deal," NBC contributor Jay Barbree said on Tuesday's Rundown. "$100 million dollars isn’t all that much money when they’re already spending billions on it now."

Barabree added that there are a slew of educational institutions and nationally-funded organizations, including NASA, dedicated to the same mission that Milner and Hawking are backing: finding life beyond Earth.

The push for the program from Hawking and the “Breakthrough Initiatives” team aims to reinvigorate that search by not only combing the galaxies, but by creating an international dialogue. Another aspect of the project, called “Breakthrough Message,” will launch an international competition with a $1 million prize to do just that—to create messages that best represent life on Earth to one day be used as a signal to other potential civilizations.

Barbree worries that the biggest factor is time, given that it could take years to send and receive signals from far away galaxies. Still, he acknowledges the importance of exploration.

“We have to get off this planet. When? That’s the big question,” Barbree said.

All data generated by “Breakthrough Initiatives” will be made available to the public.