Dr. Arroway (Foster) is a gifted scientist, encouraged as a child by her father, who has long since passed away. She presently is working for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. She and her colleagues listen to radio transmissions in hopes of finding signals sent by extraterrestrial life. Government scientist David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt) pulls the funding from SETI as he believes it's a futile exercise. After 13 months of soliciting funds in vain, Ellie gains funding from billionaire industrialist S.R. Hadden (John Hurt), who has been following Arroway's career and allows her to continue her studies at the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico.