School IT director loses job over space alien hunt

District says the former employee's quest for ET will cost it $1.2 million.

Silhouette of Very Large Array (VLA), which has contributed in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). In Arizona, a school IT director lost his job over a hunt for alien life.

The hunt for alien life led one Arizona man on a hunt for a new job.

Brad Niesluchowski used his role as information technology director of an Arizona school district to install SETI@home on computers at work. The free program, part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) at the University of California at Berkeley, downloads and analyzes data from a radio telescope constantly scanning the cosmos for galactic neighbors.

But by rigging PCs to look for ETs, Niesluchowski also swamped the school’s network and muddled legitimate class work, claims the school. The Higley Unified School District says it must now spend about a year and $1.2 million cleaning up the mess.

The mop up will include removing the software and alleged pornography, replacing 2,300 computer processors that burned out prematurely from the constant demand of running the SETI software, and a district-wide technology audit.

Niesluchowski resigned on October 22 to avoid being fired. However, he may still face broader charges as the police investigate the matter, according to the East Valley Tribune.

Update: Several readers have passed along a link to the online SETI forum, where moderator and project scientist Eric Korpela has questioned many of Higley Unified School District's claims.

"I am not aware of any study that indicates that fully utilizing a CPU's processing power for a long period of time will cause it to fail sooner than it normally would, provided that the CPU is kept in the normal temperature range for operation," he writes. "I would point out to [District Superintendent Denise] Birdwell that the University of California is a world renowned educational institution, and that regardless of her opinions, SETI@home is still the largest volunteer computing project on the planet. I will also gladly point out that the NASA Exobiology program and the National Science Foundation Astronomy division apparently do not agree with her assessment."

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