Why we are not involved in an active and very public diplomacy with aliens could be because they are or were in a clandestine relationship with a ‘secret government’, or because they’re anti-social, shy, maybe even too cool. The sad truth may be so simple: They don’t know what to say. They may have seen civilisations come and go and when it comes to earth, they’re above our skies, looking down, a bit puzzled, a bit amused, laying bets, computing risk analysis, wondering if we’ll make it out of earth alive, not in the next ten or a hundred years, but in ten thousand or a hundred thousand years.
To aliens, the use of time is the ultimate diplomacy. If, in an infinite universe, with infinite possibilities, time is not so infinite (if there was a big bang, when is the big crunch?), then time is the crucial element. We are victims of time. It runs, and runs out. Aliens have had more time to survive themselves (their own evolution, planet, and scuffles), explore space, and ruminate on it all, while we, up until a few thousand years ago, were running around half naked setting each other’s matted hair on fire. Yes it’s obvious we’re only just beginning a serious giant leap, but it is still up to us when we do it, not why.
Arguing for space exploration (or even more space education) as a conclusion is like preaching to the converted, yet sometimes the converted need a shepherd, a guiding light, a manifesto, a vision, or plainly, a new tact.
The early 21st century has been marked by two oddities.
A war on terrorism. The war on terrorists has had such an insignificant body count it seems like a sideshow compared to conflicts of before. The West may or may not succeed in bringing democracy to backward lands, but the cost to try it is phenomenal. Why not spend some of that money on rocketing democracy to Mars? Set up a colony on an alien world and then see what the religious fanatics think about the West’s prowess.
Climate change. The earth is no stranger to climate change. Our ancestors made it through one Ice Age and our descendants will make it through another. Man made climate change is a bizarre sideshow: There is a lot of political and moralist aggression surrounding a natural occurrence. Yet how much of global warming or even global cooling is caused by human activities is anyone’s guess. Is it 1%, 5%, 50%, 100%? The rhetoric and energy to police hot air is commendable because we should enforce zero pollution and implement renewable electricity, but demonising nuclear power is not the answer. Next generation nuclear technology may get us out of the Sun’s orbit, and the technology designed to outpace nuclear technology will get us to the stars, but demonising one form of energy creation is not a long term solution.
The ‘why’ argument has been buried by local annoyances (terrorism, climate change). There is no reason why we should even argue why we should explore space. However, some people shouldn’t even be consulted; some are better left to toiling the soil / fattening themselves before a soap opera. The argument should not even be presented to intelligent people that have been sidetracked by fashionable causes – a determined mind is hard to sway. For the believers in Space Exploration and the inevitable and real diplomacy with aliens, there is no need for a why, it’s just a matter of when.
Before the rise of any new industry there was a momentum.
To establish proper contact with an alien race requires a credible move by humanity to prove its desire to explore space.
To explore space requires a credible injection of genuine interest (sorry, watching blockbuster science fiction movies is not genuine, but reading a sci-fi book is getting there) and therefore investment into a commercially viable space industry.
True Space Commercialisation is not the use of satellites to beam back and forth information across the globe, that would be akin to saying merchant ships sailing around the British Aisle constituted the British Empire. Space Commercialisation is going into space, finding something of use, and extracting money from earthlings in exchange for it. The product may be rare minerals, the service may be a trip to the moon. In any case, all this will happen, but for it to happen in your lifetime requires an active investment of interest and money.
Space commercialisation is easy to say, harder to implement. Whole sub-industries have to be created and without much of a cause that isn’t that inseparable from a desire; a desire easy to shoot to pieces by anyone convinced of other needier things. For example, the creation of an ‘alien world’ colony complete with hotel requires tonnes of money. If your neighbouring country was experiencing famine (because they haven’t mastered some basics tenets of civilisation (excluding the impact of things way out of their control)) do you cancel the Moon Base to feed a few million? Arguments will be raised like “The moon won’t disappear, get to it later!” easily counteracted by, “There will always be another famine, trust me.”
There is no end to the stand off – however, to embark on any venture requires sacrifice. World War Two, a monstrosity and a tragedy, was also a morally just cause to improve so much technology that the world was pulled up and away and set on a new path. Yet that is a path that we can always alleviate ourselves from – the Middle Ages followed the decline of the Roman Empire: What’s a thousand years of relatively little technological advancement when we’ve been tooling axe heads for a few hundred thousand years?
The point is simple: We are going to explore space, and we’ll have to pay for the privilege. And if we have to pay for the privilege, someone out there has been through all the agony and ecstasy long before us. When we bite the bullet and make the leap, then the Aliens will be proud.
Life outside of earth is not just crawly things threatening your planet’s independence with a ray gun at the end of each tentacle. The existence of life, outside of earth, is a source of inspiration that transcends so much of our mundane daily rituals that each new finding in the soil of Mars is nearly, not always, front page news.
Even when one form of alien life is found in the red soil, or in condensed gas plumes of Jupiter, it will only whet the appetite for more. What we eventually discover in each of the planets and their moons, and in the asteroid belts, of the solar system, will be eclipsed by what we can discover in neighbouring star systems. Human inquisitiveness will conquer space.
Contrary to the blesses and prayers of many, there is always going to be a time for a war or two, maybe next year, and certainly for the next several thousand years. Earth still has ‘issues’ to resolve, and the duration and the body counts in the future wars may differ, but the technological improvements should hopefully and consistently march on. Space is the next obvious battle ground. There will be an arms race in space that will transform space like how aerial warfare revolutionised civilian air travel. Space combat will require the invention of some truly space age kit, and one day, just maybe, our great-great-grandchildren can buy it off the shelf.
Superiority in an earth-bred space war will rely on having space craft with greater range, velocity (and braking), manoeuvrability and yes, highly accurate weapons. The future is up to robotic drones or Top Gun astronauts, or both, making an appearance, yet they don’t have to blow each other apart into dangerously earth-orbiting space debris to do any good for the world. Their invention and use, like nuclear arsenals, may keep the peace.
The technology in your pocket is not just data, it’s resources. At some point the precious metals used in all the complicated pieces of junk (it’s all junk in the end, or an artefact to someone else) need to be sourced from somewhere else other than open-cut mines carved into rainforests. Environmental conservation may inadvertently force us to look way up and away rather than down. Besides, why tear up earth’s bio-diversity when you can dig up a lifeless asteroid or sweep the dust off a crater and pick up the sparkling goodies? And if you’ve got the means to extract minerals from Io, why not reach out to a distant star? Return on investment will be a key fundamental, but once the cost to explore diminishes, so too the time to cover great distances, and a shift in profit goals to something like fifty years rather than a quarter year is acceptable, those precious minerals will be a lot more affordable.
Given a price entry point that suits your budget, who wouldn’t want to go into space, even if it’s low orbit? The future will get us way out there, further and further. The good news for today is that there is demand, there are businesses making progress, and there will be new developments. But let’s put the brakes on for a second. Think of a space hotel. Think of a space toilet. Think of sex in space. Think of getting drunk in space. We may master some of space, but to really have some space credibility (in the eyes of aliens) we have to master some of the basics first. Perhaps when we do meet with aliens and invite them on a TV chat show, the first inappropriate yet obviously appropriate question will be, “So tell me, Argar the 565435256th from Planet Boobtube, how do you defecate when you’re travelling at half the speed of light for 42 years?”
Given time, we will explore space by our own steam.
Our own impetus is enough, but effort is rewarded in mysterious ways too. Like a child exploring a garden we will find things that attract our interest yet can only really recognise what we’ve found when we’re older. We may seek a beacon from aliens and then realise it was always there. We may search in vain, endure all the poetic pain, and find nothing, that in total, comes to mean more than everything.
We may even discover out there, something about them, that they’ve long forgotten.
All we have to do is get out there, make contact, make the Aliens proud of us, and then comes the real diplomacy: Can we hitch a ride, further out into the universe?
Copyright 2014 Simon Drake
Simon Drake.com contains information about my science fiction and non-fiction, (including where to paperbacks and ebooks), plus some short fiction.