Vintage Stuff: Space, Aliens, and Going the Distance

Original publication date: January 2010 in BURRITO, Issue #11 under the title “2010: The Year We Make Another Movie About Making Contact”

Like most people, I saw the movie “Avatar” and drooled over the astonishing special effects. I marveled at the fact that a movie like that could even be made. But it just occurred to me that the forecast was not that in 2010 we would not be just watching movies about making contact but actually making contact. Hence the title of the film “2010: The Year We Make Contact.”

So why have we not made contact? I see three reasons:

  1. We don’t have adequate spaceships technology
  2. We don’t have enough fuel to propel the spaceships we don’t have the technology to build
  3. We don’t know where to look

Note: Some folks argue that we don’t have enough money to fund space travel. This is a silly notion. It’s not like money is some sort of scarce element that needs to be mined (“Avatar” reference). If an alien ship were to visit Earth and drop $100 trillion dollars out of the sky, it wouldn’t advance space travel research but would only screw up the value of the dollar (even more so!). But then, if an alien would do that, we would have essentially made contact and thus negate the need for money to do such. Ain’t that a rub.

For now, let’s just unpack the three reasons:

Reason #1: We don’t have adequate spaceship technology

We think that, as earthlings, we’re so intelligent that we want to find similar intelligent life to invite to dinner parties and collectively complain about the state of the universe and impress each other with stories of vacations to distant planets. But we’re not that intelligent. We can’t even go to other planets in our own solar system. This is a case of sociological survival of the fittest at the galactic level: if we can’t figure out how to get invited to the party, we don’t belong there. Also, we can’t borrow Dad’s car in this case so, oh well.

Reason #2: We don’t have enough fuel to propel the spaceships we don’t have the technology to build

Even if we had a spaceship that could make the flight, how is it powered? To haul enough rocket fuel to get us to another solar system would require a spacecraft too big to power it with mere rocket fuel. And we can’t use solar panels because we’d be flying away from the sun. We need something that can get us up to the speed of light and keep us there for years. Did somebody say “warp”? If we can’t even figure out how to build the ship, what makes us think that we can somehow figure out how to warp space and time? And if we could, how would we know our ship could handle it? One galactic “flat tire” and we’d be done for. Who would we call for help? There are no cell phone towers in space and I’m pretty sure AAA doesn’t service that sector.

Reason #3: We don’t know where to look

This is by far the most significant reason. Why build the ship to begin with if we don’t know where to point it? Space is big. It’s not like going to the mall to find a nice pair of pants, we can’t just browse around. And what if we found a planet with “intelligent” life on it? Think about how we find friends now. We don’t randomly knock on peoples’ doors in hopes that the guy who answers shares our particular hopes and dreams. He may be some psycho who’ll shoot us with his shotgun for being on his property. Imagine that at a planetary level.

Do I want to find intelligent life on other planets? Not really. There are intelligent beings on this planet I have yet to meet. And, to be honest, the movies about making contact are fun and fill that curious void. And also, if I’m being honest, I think alien life might smell like intergalactic B.O.

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