TED Conversations

Astra Singh


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Space 2050: Are we prepared for meeting 'Alien' life?

We have been stargazing forever but the first planets outside our solar system weren’t actually found too long ago. Technology is speeding up. Movies about encountering ET life forms are abundant. We already have tourist flights to the moon. But are we prepared for meeting alien life?
Thinking ahead just a random year: 2050. How far do you think we will have travelled in the universe? What do you think we might encounter? Are we (meaning ‘The World’ and not just powerful countries with space programs) prepared for what we find?

To start things off: I believe by that time we will have identified inhabitable planets elsewhere and that there may well be ‘lower’ life forms than Earth. That we may well be exhibiting the ‘Aggressive Alien’ behavior we ourselves have been so afraid of.
I hope that we will have policies in place (regarding ownership, exploitation, travel etc.) as well as ‘If..Then’ scenarios for when we do encounter life elsewhere.


Closing Statement from Astra Singh

This was my first Conversation post and it has been a pleasant experience. There were many insightful responses that helped further my knowledge on the topic and also presented food for thought.

Are we prepared for meeting alien life? Some comments:
-We are not prepared at all and even issues regarding property rights within our own Galaxy, be it the moon or Mars, are not even talked about yet;
-Interesting scenarios on either us meeting alien life elsewhere or alien life meeting us here;
-Suggestion that Sci-Fi writers may actually be the ones to know possible scenarios;
-A noticeable shift from strictly horror type alien movies to more ‘feel-good’ alien-human stories at present, possibly in a way of preparing a mind-shift for the world community;
-Need to focus on people getting along on Earth first or search for possibilities within our own Galaxy before looking elsewhere;
-The lack of further financing of space related programs will seriously hamper developments in this field; -Some suggestions on what policies should contain as well as suggestions on preparedness in showing intentions of peace and at the same time being ready to defend ourselves if necessary.
I feel that countries should have something like a white paper on preparedness, and that the topic should be on the global agenda.

Many expressed doubts about travelling further beyond our Galaxy because of the distance and the time it would take to travel back and forth. With regard to this last issue I was excited to recently read about an experiment at CERN regarding the ‘neutrino’ a subatomic particle, said to be going faster than light. If this is true it would certainly upset Einstein’s relativity theory E=MC2. And then who knows what’s next?

Thank you Joe, Mathieu, Nicholas, Tom, Kent, Kristofer, Tim, Erwan, Erol, Chris, Mohamed, Cheyenne, Farrukh, Callum, Daniel, Benny, Stephen, Cole, Colleen, Max, Luis for taking the time to respond to this Conversation and enlightening me with your wisdom.

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    Aug 22 2011: The sad thing when it comes to space travel is that the distances are enormous. If we find life in our own solar system, we will hopefully be able to examine it first hand. But anything other than very primitive life forms should not be expected.

    The closest star is more than four light years away, and with the speed mars mission travels at it would take thousands of years to reach there. As long as we don't discover something that radically changes how we understand the universe in terms of special relativity, we are almost certainly never going to be able to travel to any other solar system. I think our best hope would be to be able to comunicate with relatively close inteligent life through radio waves. But such commmunication would be very difficult as well as we would have to wait at least eight years to get an answer to our sent messages. And that is if there is life intelligent enough to build electronic equipment in the closest solar system.

    When it commes to life on other planets, I think I find the most interesting idea to be that we maybe could plant life on one or several of the planets in our solar system and generate life there. With the advances in bioengineering, maybe we can engineer really tough bacterias that survive on the surface of mars, eats rocks, and creates an atmosphere there.
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      Aug 23 2011: Hi Kristofer,
      It’s clear you have given the subject some thought, thank you for the effort.

      ‘we are almost certainly never going to be able to travel to any other solar system’
      Darn, you almost burst my hope-balloon there :)

      Your suggestion of planting life on other ‘nearby’ planets is totally in sync with the experiments already going on in artificial biospheres. This is beautifully explained in a TED talk by Jane Poynter (Life in Biosphere 2). Here she also mentions growing plants for use on the Moon and Mars.
      In this light it seems we (The World) should definitely start putting policies in place for all sorts of rights, e.g. landownership. Or will it just be available for affluent people (4th, 5th house)?
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        Aug 23 2011: Yeah I think I was a bit disapointed when I realized it too. :(

        Have watched the biosphere talk and it was really interesting. I would love if a project like that was underaken on the moon or mars during my lifetime. I can really see some usefullness in collonising other planets. If robotics are developed to the point where they can sustain factories that don't need human workers, we could move our nuclear powerplants there and beem the energy down to the earth.

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