Recently I heard a comedian on TV say; “I cannot imagine any situation where meeting aliens from space would turn out well.” Neither can I. And apparently Dr. Steven Hawkins is like-minded.
Although the exploration of our solar system is really exciting, inspirational and educational, I think that we really do need to consider what we are doing within and beyond our solar system, before we do something that cannot be undone.
We have been exposed to countless novels and movies where we have met alien life forms. In these fantasy encounters, we meet species as though they we meeting “one on one”. The reality is however that we as humans contain millions of bacteria, virus, fungi, and even little mites living in our eyelashes. We are literally a walking and breathing ecosystem. At least 500 species of bacteria, weighing about 3.3 pounds, live inside our gut. Our skin supports about 1 trillion bacteria of various varieties. In total, most of the time we share our bodies harmoniously with about 90 trillion or so microbes.
If we ever eventually meet a space visitor, we can assume that he/she/it will come with an equal number of worrisome and uncategorized organisms living on its body. Undoubtedly a lot of these alien organisms would see humans as a source of substance or a place to feed their offspring. This begs the question, “How could we ever expect to adapt overnight to a host of threats to which our body has no evolved defenses?” In addition, how could any extraterrestrial-being hope to adapt to the threat we ourselves would present?
Our Native Americans did not cope well with the exposure to just a few diseases that the Europeans brought with them to their world – not to mention our brutal and cruel behaviour toward them. I think (in the case of meeting extraterrestrial aliens) that life of all humanity, and of the aliens alike, would be in grave peril.
In ‘The War of the Worlds’, by English author H. G. Wells, the Martian invaders wreak mayhem and havoc but eventually die off because of an Earthly bacterial infection to which they had no defence. (maybe measles) Wells might have just as easily have written that Earth inhabitants died off from some Martian bacteria which the Martian invaders brought with them.
This week (as I write this) NASA showed us Pluto. As expected it was round with some lumpy bits here and there, and with some flat bits here and there. As I watched in fascination, I could not help but wonder how many bacterium and viral passengers were aboard our little space craft as it passed Pluto and headed off into outer space – perhaps to ‘seed’ another planet or possible infect another planet with its microscopic passengers from Earth. Seriously, I was one of the curious people waiting for the photos of Pluto to arrive, but at the same time, I’m just not sure we should be taking the risk of endangering any potential life forms that may or may not exist ‘out there’.
Some statistics from: http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jun/your-body-is-a-planet