Is NASA hiring 24 theologians in 2023 to prepare humans for an imminent alien discovery? No, that's not true: The recycled claim misconstrues the meaning of a 2015 grant to the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI). Among other things, "The NASA-funded portion of this research concluded in 2017," according to a NASA spokesperson. The claim, which has been around since 2021, has been widely debunked.
The claim appeared in a post on Instagram on March 14, 2023. In the post, a man said:
NASA is hiring a priest to prepare humans for an alien discovery and contact. Do you guys know what this means? They're hiring a total of 24 theologians as part of an effort to work out how religions all over the world would react to news about alien life.
This is what the post looked like on Instagram at the time of writing:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Thu Mar 16 14:45:41 2023 UTC)
The man in the video continued:
They're hiring these people because they, in fact, know that we are not alone and we are actually on the precipice of public disclosure of alien life.
The same video was previously published July 13, 2022, on the same Instagram account, and on TikTok on December 24, 2021. Despite the man's claim that "we are actually on the precipice of public disclosure of alien life," no such disclosure has come to pass.
The man's claims were based on a mis-statement of the terms of a NASA grant to CTI in 2015. Back then, CTI announced that it had received a grant from the NASA Astrobiology Program "to convene an interdisciplinary inquiry into the societal implications of the search for life in the universe." In a statement, CTI said:
With this $1.108 million grant, CTI will oversee a resident team of visiting scholars in theology, the humanities, and social sciences that will conduct an interdisciplinary inquiry on the societal implications of astrobiology, the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.
Lead Stories reached out to NASA to ask about the grant and the video's claims. In an email, dated March 16, 2023, spokesperson Karen Fox wrote:
The agency's Astrobiology program provided partial funding through a grant to the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) in 2015 to assess societal implications for NASA's astrobiological and search for life efforts. The NASA-funded portion of this research concluded in 2017, and the theologians, philosophers, scientists, and sociologists 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.
We also reached out to CTI to ask about the video's claims. We will update this story, as appropriate, if we receive a response.