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NASC 1963: 'Thoughts On The Space Alien Race

From: Stig Agermose <stig.agermose@privat.dk>
Date: Fri, 28 Jun 2002 17:45:49 +0200
Fwd Date: Fri, 28 Jun 2002 12:17:17 -0400
Subject: NASC 1963: 'Thoughts On The Space Alien Race

Another interesting US government document which is now online.

Source: U.S. Department Of State


The item is found at the bottom of the webpage.




383. Memorandum From Maxwell W. Hunter II of the National
Aeronautics and Space Council to Robert F. Packard of the Office
of International Scientific Affairs/1/

Washington, July 18, 1963.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59,
Central Files 1960-63, SP 16. Official Use Only.

Thoughts on the Space Alien Race Question

During recent discussions the question has occasionally, though
rarely, arisen that perhaps we should consider the policy
question of what to do if an alien intelligence is discovered in
space. Some discussion of this occurred, as you will recall,
during deliberations on BNSP Task I. This memo contains some
miscellaneous thoughts on the question.

The consensus of scientific view says, with quite good reasons,
that the possibility of running across an alien intelligent race
in our solar system is negligible. This is due primarily to the
presumed unsuitability of conditions upon other planets to
support life as we know it. The flying saucer advocates claim,
of course, that the scientific viewpoint is nonsense, and that
there is overwhelming evidence of such beings. In my own mind, I
find it difficult to side with the flying saucer advocates, but
the almost total impossibility envisioned by most scientists
also is disturbing. Therefore, I present the problem in current
perspective, as I see it.

Up until a few decades ago it seemed very improbable that
intelligent life existed anywhere outside of the solar system.
The chief reasons for this were a combination of scientific
theory, scientific knowledge, and religious belief. The most
widely accepted scientific theory as to the formation of the
solar planetary system held that it was a result of the near
collision of two stars. Since such a precise near-miss of two
stars would be an extremely rare event, it followed that there
would be very few other planetary systems in the universe and,
indeed, perhaps this was the only one. Religious belief said,
furthermore, that life was a gift bestowed by God. This was a
relatively undisputed point since no scientific data existed to
bridge the gap between non-living and living materials.

The situation today is vastly changed in these respects. The
most widely held theory of stellar formation would predict the
formation of planetary systems to be a natural consequence of
stellar evolution. On this basis, most stars would possess
planetary systems, and the number of habitable planets in our
galaxy would be tremendous. Our biggest telescopes cannot
resolve planets at the distances even of the nearest stars, so
no direct confirmation is yet available. In my own mind,
however, the wide prevalence of multiple stars is an
overwhelming hint in support of this theory. In addition, the
biological sciences have almost completely traced a series of
natural occurrences which lead from inanimate molecules to
elementary living viruses. Thus, we have the current scientific
theory and data not only that there are a huge number of planets
in the galaxy, but that life is quite likely to arise
spontaneously on a large number of these. This, of course, does
not necessarily imply intelligent life. Modern theology is not
necessarily incompatible with this. The description in Genesis
of the Creation certainly is a better picture of the current
theory than of a stellar collision, and since God only spent
seven days on this system, He has clearly had lots of time to
create many more systems.

Even granting a probable existence of much life in the galaxy,
there is still the question of whether another intelligent race
exists in our solar system. There are, of course, two methods of
its establishment in our system. One of these is that it
originated on some other planet, for instance, Mars. Some of the
spectacular markings of Mars have been interpreted as indicating
intelligence. In particular, the famous "Canali" are rather
narrow, and always run from one prominent marking to another,
frequently with round splotches at intersections. As far as I
know, no one has discovered a "Canali" which goes nowhere. This
has quite understandably stimulated much conversation. In fact,
a number of decades ago, when scientists thought that any life
on other stellar systems was very remote, they seemed to feel
that intelligent life probably existed on our other planets.
Some of the discussions about life on Mars at the turn of the
century seem to indicate a strong urge to want to find
intelligent life elsewhere. Today, the situation is completely
reversed, and although intelligent life is considered quite
probable among the stars, it is held to be quite unlikely within
the solar system. We seem more eager to listen with Ozma than to
look closely at Canali.

One school of flying saucer advocates claims that the Martians
have been mining our moon for natural resources for some time.
At first thought, one would think they would rather mine earth.
It is interesting to speculate, however, upon space flight from
the point of view of a Martian. The escape speed of Mars is only
16,500 fps, and, of course, braking speed on our moon is less
than 10,000 fps. Thus, Martians looking at earth would tend to
view it the same way Terrestrials look at Jupiter. Our moon
might not be less work to get to, since atmospheric braking to
earth is possible, but would be very much easier to return from,
while the energy requirements to go to and return from the
surface of the earth might well be so high as to discourage
interest, at least initially. Interestingly enough, even a
normal high energy chemical rocket could make a trip from Mars
to our moon at favorable times while carrying almost 10% of its
gross weight in payload. Space flight starting from Mars, then,
is a much easier prospect than starting from Terra. If a
suitable refueling base had been painfully established on our
moon, the operation could be done quite commendably with merely
chemical energy. (The aforementioned high energy chemical rocket
could carry at favorable times almost 50% payload back to Mars.)
Of course, many flying saucer advocates claim that the discovery
of both Martian moons within a week in the latter part of the
Nineteenth Century indicates that they are large artificial
space stations, otherwise they would have been found earlier. If
we were to discover Martians on the moon, it would result in
surprisingly little readjustment of our scientific thinking. The
biggest question would be why they were there rather than among
the Asteroids.

In fact, if we were not as scientifically sure of ourselves as
we are, three recent events would be hailed as broad hints of
intelligent life on the moon. (1) The discovery of hot gasses
emanating from the crater Alphonsus when the moon was supposedly
dead. This would be considered evidence of civilization and,
since Alphonsus is close to the visible edge, interpreted to
mean that the other side of the moon was teeming with population
which had begun to spill around to this side. (2) The infra-red
scans which show hot spots. These would be interpreted as
indications of cities or at least mining camps. (3) The fact
that no lunar or planetary probe of significance has been
successful, in spite of major efforts on the part of two very
successful earth orbitfaring nations. It would be supposed that
someone was denying us deep space. (The other-side-of-the-moon
pictures from Lunik III show no details of consequence, and the
same can be said of the data from Mariner II compared to what we
had already known about Venus from earth-based measurements.)
Should the Martians have colonized the moon without discovering
nuclear energy, then they represent no real problem, and our
current national policy would be made to order for the
situation. If all of this were true, of course, I would expect
the Martians to be scared to death of what they have seen
recently on this planet, and would expect that the highest
priority development program in the solar system is being
conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission of Mars.

Even if we are secure in our belief that intelligent life never
would develop on Mars or some other solar planet, there is still
the question of visitors to the solar system from other stellar
systems. This is normally written off as an extremely low
probability, due to the tremendous distances between stars, and
the Einstein limitation on travel faster than the speed of
light. Therefore, even if there are a large number of
intelligent life forms in the galaxy, and even if they are
continuously searching for other races, the frequency of
investigation of any stellar system would be only once in many
thousands of years and contact would rarely, if ever, be
achieved. It might never be achieved, since presumably
intelligent races die out. (What happened to the planet whose
pieces now are spread around the Asteroid Belt? Or, for that
matter, why is Uranus lying on its side?) I am not sure that
this travel restriction is quite as infallible as it sounds. I
believe that it is possible with what we now know about nuclear
energy to envision ships driven at half to three-quarters of the
speed of light. This, since the galaxy is 100,000 light-years
across, still does not make a search of the entire galaxy
feasible within the life span of the average man. But suppose
some race under pressure of population explosion were expanding
as fast as technically feasible from star to star throughout the
galaxy. If their ships averaged half the speed of light, and if,
on the average, they stopped every 10 light-years for a twenty-
year stay at a stellar system to deposit colonists, refuel, and
build extra ships, they would only take two hundred thousand
years, starting at the center of the galaxy, to spread
throughout the whole system. Since the earliest known remains of
man have recently been dated at approximately one million seven
hundred thousand years, a sustained drive for merely two hundred
thousand years may not be unreasonable. Of course, if we were to
run across representatives of this kind of interstellar race,
they would not be nearly as tame as the previously hypothesized
chemical Martians, and our policy would need to be revised
accordingly. Fortunately, travel time restrictions would inhibit
their ability to bring all forces to bear, in case we should
develop differences of viewpoint.

The third possibility, scientifically abhorrent, is that the
Einstein theory may only be an approximation, and an alien race
which actually travels faster than light exists. If we were to
meet such a race, our policy had better be to negotiate fast,
because the implications of their far better understanding and
control of the fundamental forces of nature would be obvious. If
all the scientific speculation were to turn out wrong and we
were to stumble across an alien race, we would want to know as
quickly as possible which of the three types I have indicated it
was, as our diplomatic policy would damned well be influenced by
the results.


Although all plausible scientific thinking suggests that we will
not find any other intelligence race, the probability that we
will is finite, and perhaps should not be completely ignored.
Were we to find one, the question of whether it was a race with
primitive chemical space flight, space flight equivalent to our
best understanding of nuclear energy, or space flight based on
physics beyond Einstein should be ascertained as rapidly as
possible, since our policies would be affected in the most
drastically possible way. In any event, a policy of the
immediate burying of all Terrestrial hatchets would likely be in
order. Even if we only found tame chemical Martians, or merely
the debris from some intragalactic survey mission, it would be a
good idea to proceed on the assumption that the human race would
finally have found a bigger problem than the ones it has created
for itself. There likely is nothing to be done at the moment to
prepare for these possibilities (the only body of writing on the
subject available in an emergency is science fiction), because
no one of consequence is going to take this rubbish seriously
unless it happens. At that point, our policy will be determined
in the traditional manner of grand panic.

Maxwell W. Hunter, II

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