NASA speculates on extraterrestrial invasion

What would "Buzz" Aldrin of Apollo 11 thinki of this extraterrestrial "buzz"?
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Why is an agency of the United States government seriously worrying about armed extraterrestrial intervention in human affairs?

NASA’s extraterrestrial worries

The paper that causes the excitement is “Would contact with extraterrestrials benefit or harm humanity? A scenario analysis,” Acta Astronautica (2011) 68:2114-2129 (doi: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2010.10.012) (download here). The authors include a geographer and a weatherman at Penn State, and a NASA planetary scientist. The Guardian (UK) and International Business Times both summarize it.

This paper reads like a television writers’ guide pretending to be a scientific treatise. The mainstream media picked up on the most sensational warning, or what they think is the warning. Did the authors really say that if humanity does not stop wrecking the earth, an extraterrestrial armed force would stop us if they had to kill us? Well, yes—and no. No, the purpose would not be “to protect our planet from us.” (L. Ron Hubbard used that as the plot of his ten-novel story arc, Mission Earth, his last work before he died.) But what the paper said was worse: an extraterrestrial nation-state might decide that humanity would pose a threat to them. They would read the “changing spectral signature” of the earth (from “greenhouse gases”) as just one example to make us a military target. The authors went so far as to say that we ought to be careful what we send out into space. The worry: an extraterrestrial “bug marshal” might design a nasty germ to wipe us out, using our own messages as a guide. (See pages 20-21 and following.)

Does extraterrestrial civilization exist?

Before the sensational parts, the authors do note the obvious: nobody has reliably seen extraterrestrial scouts, ambassadors, or armies. Enrico Fermi first said that extraterrestrial civilization should be all over the galaxy. So where is it? The US Air Force looked for hard evidence for years, and found none.

The paper lists three solutions to this “Fermi paradox”:

  1. Life is rare, and intelligent life is rarer still. So humanity might be the only intelligent kind alive today. (See, for example, Forbidden Planet, with Walter Pidgeon, Anne Frances, and Leslie Nielsen; Metro-Goldwyn and Mayer, 1956.) Or maybe aliens do exist, but we can’t reach them, and they can’t reach us.
  2. Expansion on a galactic scale has a speed limit. An expanding civilization stretches its supply lines, or maybe gets too big to grow further. Or it chokes on its own wastes.
  3. Extraterrestrial civilizations do exist, and are all over the galaxy, but we can’t see them. Either they are of a kind that we could never see, or they are hiding from us. (See, for example, Lewis, CS, Out of the Silent Planet.)

The paper calls this last prospect by a dark name: the Zoo Hypothesis. In other words, we are animals to these “people.” So what are they waiting for? For us to “grow up.” See Roddenberry G, Star Trek, and especially the “Prime Directive,” which reads in effect:

No officer or enlistee in Starfleet Command shall do anything that materially affects the biological, social or other development of or on an alien planet.

That’s fine—but, ask the authors, what if they really are deciding whether to weed us out? (See Adams D, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) Or maybe to annihilate us and take what they want? (See Wells HG, The War of the Worlds; Johnston K, V; Emmerich R, Independence Day; etc.)

A finicky place

What would "Buzz" Aldrin thinki of this extraterrestrial "buzz"?

Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on the moon. Photo: NASA/Astronaut Neil Armstrong

The very authorship, let alone publication, of this paper is a national disgrace. First, Enrico Fermi’s math is simply wrong. Before doing their “scenario analysis,” the paper authors might have checked his numbers. Fermi assumed, without warrant, that any star brighter than a K-type could spawn life, or at least had a planet where the seeds of life might grow. (See Crick FHC and Orgel LE, “Directed Panspermia,” Icarus, 19, 341 (1973). Crick and Orgel discussed one scenario that the latest authors did not consider. Did a “progenitor” race seed billions of planets everywhere, using guided missiles? That actually made an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

In 2001, three scientists at the University of Arizona published their theory of a Galactic Habitable Zone. Life could never spawn, much less flourish, at any star outside this zone. Inside it, the radiation would “fry” all living things. Outside it, even the vaunted “protoplanetary disks” could not form. (The material for these disks would be too sparse even by conventional assumptions.) And by no accident, the rough boundaries of this zone are the closest approach to, and farthest distance from, the center of the galaxy that the sun makes in its own orbit.

After that, only a Type G2 star can harbor life. Anything cooler would be too dim; anything hotter (especially the O, B, A, and F stars) would be too bright.

Then, too, the earth itself has its own conditions for life, conditions that no other planet, in or out of our solar system, has.

In summary: life is finicky. The earth is a finicky planet. And our sun is a finicky star in a finicky place in our galaxy. Thus the Fermi paradox is not valid because the math behind it is not valid.

Aristotle could have told those people: contradictions do not exist. If they find it inconceivable that humanity is alone in the galaxy, or even the universe, let them check their premises. Their basic premise is disastrously wrong.

Worse than that: these are only the conditions to sustain life. The conditions to spawn life do not exist anywhere. Repeated experiments to achieve abiogenesis (life from non-life) have failed. No one has yet figured out what the “first replicator” looked like.

A God-substitute

Extraterrestrial civilization, especially when “advanced,” is a God-substitute. When men forget God, they always look for a substitute. The uber-modernists of the Sixties substituted “modern science” or “future science.” Postmodernists doubt that now, and look for other things. Like extraterrestrial civilizations.

One other thing that the mainstream media did not mention: the paper looked at beneficial interventions. Among them: advice to humanity for solutions to its ecological and/or political problems. This is the L. Ron Hubbard Mission Earth scenario. (It is also the premise, or close to the premise, of the Church of Scientology.)

Hubbard was late to the party. See Siegel J and Shuster J, “Action Comics 1,” Detective Comics, 1932 for the obvious God-substitute: Superman. In fact, Superman seems more like Moses than God, considering how Siegel and Shuster described his arrival on earth.

Conclusion

An agency of the United States government is actually worrying about an event that can never happen. And they are doing it with taxpayers’ money (one author’s salary, plus the research grant). This would be funny were it not so sad. NASA began with a mission to show a potential enemy that the United States could, at need, build a low-earth-orbital strategic bomber. It continued with an exploration program to rival that of Christopher Columbus. Now we see it speculating vainly about a visit from afar. It cannot even make up its mind whether these “Visitors” would intend good or evil.

Ayn Rand was right: the government should play no role in scientific investigation. At best, we get results that really make us the laughingstock of the world. Anyone who laughs at creation science should now eat his words.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

19 Responses to NASA speculates on extraterrestrial invasion

  1. John says:

    Terry, I think you have just made creation science falsifiable for the first time ever. If we ever make contact with any extra terrestrial life, then creation science is wrong, but since we haven’t, creation science has to be right. You’ve just convinced me.

  2. I don’t see God as one to waste space — and there’s an awful lot of it out there.

  3. Bill says:

    Terry, you said: “Before the sensational parts, the authors do note the obvious: nobody has reliably seen extraterrestrial scouts, ambassadors, or armies.”

    Don’t you believe that dinosaurs still exist and are splashing around in a lake in Vermont right now?
    https://www.conservativenewsandviews.com/2011/07/22/creation/cadborosaurus-saltwater-plesiosaur/

    It’s hard to fathom how you can make the claim you make above about aliens, but believe in dinosaurs living among us today.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      And which is really, truly, more believable?

      That a creature, known to have existed in the past, might still exist?

      Or that a civilization managed to bridge the insurmountable obstacles to interstellar travel and actually send a scout, an embassy, or an expeditionary force across interstellar space to our world?

      It’s your ideas of what’s fantastic that need revision. Not mine.

  4. I seem to have missed the part where an agency of the US government was involved. The NASA scientist who was a coauthor on the paper probably didn’t use work time for it, and if he did it was equivalent to using work time to play solitare on the computer.

    I have a neighbor who shovels his driveway by hand every winter, he happens to work for the federal government, Why on earth is the federal government shoveling the driveways of private individuals!

  5. Tony says:

    “Why is an agency of the United States government seriously worrying about armed extraterrestrial intervention in human affairs?”

    This report was NOT sanctioned by NASA in any way shape or form. This is not a NASA report. Just because one guy has an affiliation with NASA doesn’t mean that it’s supported by NASA. The very premise of this entire article is false, and titling it in the way you did allows other idiotic websites to falsely proclaim “NASA WORRIED ABOUT ALIEN INVASIONS”. No. Taxpayer money did NOT go into this report. How can you be so irresponsible with your authorship?

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Fine! Then why did he use his NASA affiliation? And do you really doubt for one picosecond that the geographer and the weatherman, who were the lead and middle author of that paper, took the NASA man on precisely because he was a NASA man?

      That NASA imprimatur, on that paper, means that he is representing the agency and representing the government.

      Post back when NASA officially disavows his views. And better yet, fires this guy for bringing scandal and disrepute upon what was once an (arguably) great agency that managed a project that became a Wonder of the Modern World.

      • He used his NAsa affiliation because it makes him look good. An olypic athlete can shill some shoes, that doesn’t mean that the olympics are supporting adidas.

        • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

          You know better than that. The International Olympic Committee has a highly specific endorsement policy. Oh, sure, Olympic athletes may endorse the products of their choice—so long as they follow the guidelines of the IOC.

          So you tell me: where in the name of Wernher von Braun are the guidelines of NASA, that govern what sort of papers a planetary scientist may put his name onto?

          Let me remind you, and any other visitor to this comment space: the Jet Propulsion Laboratory dismissed one of its managers after he made a statement suggesting that maybe—just maybe—the universe did not come about by chance alone. So don’t tell me that a NASA scientist has absolute freedom of speech.

          If the third author of this pseudoscientific paper put his name in it, that can only have happened because NASA allowed it.

          • Yes the IOC has a very stric policy, but athletes endorse things all the time, and do so using their olypian status. I think one or two late night infmercials for exercise machines have real olympians in them who talk about the fact that they are olypians, They are allowed to do this in spite of the restrictions because it is true information.

            It’s also true that this guy works for NASA. If NASA had a policy that required their employees to keep mum about their employment status now that would be wrong, but the fact that a NASA employee is allowed to state a true statement of fact that does not jeopardize security does not automatically default NASA into endorsing everything its employees do. If you look deeply enough I am sure you can find a NASA employee who once gave a talk about faith at their church and lisited their employment. Does that mean that NASA endorses a religion?

            As what we should consider part of their compensation NASA employees gain a powerful signal regarding their education and competence, it signifies information about them, not about NASA. The employees get to use that signal how they wish, NASA’s job isn’t to censor anyone.

          • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

            I would expect NASA to have a policy that they would monitor the kind of scientific treatises that their employees, and especially their scientific employees, put their names onto. And I am aghast that NASA sees nothing wrong with someone putting his name on a paper that reads like an outtake from Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater script for pretending that the earth was coming under attack from Mars.

            And NASA, or at least one of its affiliated agencies (JPL), has engaged in censorship in recent years. Don’t tell me that it doesn’t.

            This goes to the gullibility of laypeople. My grandfather told me, long ago (before he died), how it was when he listened to the Orson Welles broadcast. He caught it from the beginning. And as it got rolling, he said, “You watch. Any minute now, people are going to start knocking on our door, and saying…”

            Sure enough: Knock, knock! “Who’s there?” “We’re going to die together! WE’RE GOING TO DIE TOGETHER!”

          • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

            I would expect NASA to have a policy that they would monitor the kind of scientific treatises that their employees, and especially their scientific employees, put their names onto. And I am aghast that NASA sees nothing wrong with someone putting his name on a paper that reads like an outtake from Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater script for pretending that the earth was coming under attack from Mars.

            And NASA, or at least one of its affiliated agencies (JPL), has engaged in censorship in recent years. Don’t tell me that it doesn’t.

            This goes to the gullibility of laypeople. My grandfather told me, long ago (before he died), how it was when he listened to the Orson Welles broadcast. He caught it from the beginning. And as it got rolling, he said, “You watch. Any minute now, people are going to start knocking on our door, and saying…”

            Sure enough: Knock, knock! “Who’s there?” “We’re going to die together! WE’RE GOING TO DIE TOGETHER!

  6. Tony says:

    Very well, after some time NASA did in fact make a statement that it is not a true NASA research paper, and the author apologized for making it appear too serious:

    http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/201396/20110821/alien-invasion-nasa-destroy-earth.htm

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      The link does indeed say that the author apologized for putting his “company ID” on the paper. And that he was sorry for all the trouble.

      Did you notice what else International Business Times said? That Paul Krugman said that a good alien-invasion scare would juice the economy. Today, Ramirez (Investors’ Business Daily) drew a cartoon about Krugman: “You have just crossed over into The Krugman Zone!” As in “Twilight.”

      • Now that all doubt is removed that NASA was behind this speculative piece of fiction are you going to edit the post to make that obvious? Are you planning on posting a retraction?

        • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

          I will do no such thing. Here is what happened: NASA sent a “plausibly disavowable catspaw” in to “float a trial balloon” on whether people would accept the global-warming narrative if it came from ET. A couple of hundred public guffaws later, NASA disavowed any connection with the article other than one author’s affiliation. That still doesn’t excuse them making clear that their employees only make their agency look ridiculous by publishing articles of that kind.

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