Ellie Arroway, the main character of Contact is forced to persevere through many obstacles, starting with the death of her father who she was close to. Project Argus (the team of researchers Ellie is over) has been unsuccessful after many attempts to achieve contact with another unearthly being. Religion and faith is a cloudy issue because of her near-atheist stance toward God. From relationships to achieving Project Argus's goal, Ellie life takes many twists and turns, but she remains focused and driven.
Project Argus has been trying to achieve contact for years and had been fruitless to the point where the project was to be shutdown. Ellie thought to look the one place they hadn't, the northern skies of the Argus system. A response in the form of a message from space came back. It was not positive at first where or who exactly the message was from.
The message consisted of the first few hundred prime numbers.
Skeptical at first, all possibilities were checked out to ensure the authenticity of the message. They checked out the possibility of it being from an airplane, a satellite, or from someone trying to play a joke on Ellie and her team. It did turn out to be a real message from an unearthly source. Ellie decided to share her findings with other astronomical centers around the world. That decision was later questioned due to bad relations between Russia and America.
Ellie had a special place in her heart for her mother and father, and they were part of what kept her determined. After her father died, her mother married John Staughton. Once the message had started to be understood, Ellie's mother had an untimely stroke. John sent Ellie a letter blaming her for putting unnecessary pressure on her...