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Earth from space at night. Photo: NASA.

NASA Plans for First Contact with an Alien Civilization


Table from page 230 of NASA's <i>Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication</i>.

Table from page 230 of NASA’s Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication.

Earlier this month, NASA published an anthology titled Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication (SP-2013-4413). If you find yourself thinking “hey, that sounds like a scholarly anthology dealing with the cultural implications of alien contact,” you’re absolutely right. And it’s amazing. I’ll be writing more specifically (and critically) about some of the theories it describes in the weeks ahead, because it asks some questions that don’t lend themselves to easy answers.

The anthology couldn’t have been published as a direct response to Gabriel G. de la Torre’s recent paper on first contact, but it reads like one; the timing is pretty serendipitous, as it constitutes exactly the kind of rigorously scientific, but interdisciplinary and provocative, conversation that Torre asked for. As the volume editor Douglas A. Vakoch explains:

Addressing a field that has been dominated by astronomers, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists, the contributors to this volume raise questions that may have been overlooked by physical scientists about the ease of establishing meaningful communication with extraterrestrial intelligence. These scholars are grappling with some of the enormous challenges that will face humanity if an information-rich signal emanating from another world is detected. By drawing on issues at the core of contemporary archaeology and anthropology, we can be much better prepared for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, should that day ever come.

It doesn’t completely resolve the conversation we need to have about communication with extraterrestrial civilizations—but it’s a definitive contribution to the field, and it starts some conversations that we would be very well served to have.

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  • jack S

    It may be a bad day when that first signal is confirmed to extraterrestrial; especially, if they have managed interstellar travel. Advanced societies on Earth did not treat those deemed “lesser” with too much kindness and good will. Are we going to expect better treatment from someone far more superior than us?

  • Ralph Gonzales

    I believe that those who search for extraterrestrial intelligence should be turning their powerful tools towards earth to search for human, terrestrial intelligence. If an advanced civilization watched how we treated our planet, and other sentient beings, they would assume that we were a virus hell bent on destroying our world. I think that it is safe to assume that they would devise a way to take us out, species specific pesticide, and free the earth and the universe from this growing menace. I don’t think that they would consider us to be intelligent enough to respect and/or become friends. If they were really intelligent, they would not treat us as equals.

  • Nate Bauman

    I completely agree with you… hopefully they would save a few of us good ones for a zoo for their kids…. lol

  • wylekat

    Ok- but I only do 2 shows a day, 3 days a week. I won’t do any more. I won’t. I just won’t. 😉

  • wylekat

    It’ll be fun to watch karma come from space….