The impatient wait for a call from aliens

Shihab Sarkar | Thursday, 20 January 2022

Aliens have once again grabbed headlines as they have done intermittently over the last one century. This time the media news piece casts its spell on the gullible people, quite convincingly at that. It centres round a report on NASA's funding of a discourse being conducted by a group of theologians discussing some ethical aspects of communicating with outer space humanoids. This development unfolds amid nonstop enquiring of the possible existence of life forms in the distant planets and exoplanets.  That these life forms may resemble humans is quite apparent.

The group assigned the breath-taking job of human encounter with the aliens, and summing up its ethical permissibility, is known as the Centre for Theological Inquiry (CTI), NASA.  The news of the US space agency's granting of money for the Centre, based in Princeton, New Jersey, has been broken recently by the news agency AP. It was followed by a contradiction from NASA saying it has stopped funding for the project in 2017. Although the NASA project of bringing theologians from around the world to discuss the venture's ethical aspects, and the agency's claim that the programme exists no longer, AP appears to be unconvinced. Many people suspect that the project is still alive, and engaged in further researches. 

 Meanwhile, apart from being the source of the information, the news agency AP's involvement has added to the suspense latent in the whole alien-related episode. All this appears to have opened the path to a fresh bout of thrill surrounding the extraterrestrials' presence in the nearby or distant galaxies. As is the case for UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects), extraterrestrials have also literally spellbound a section of people across the world. Lots of astrophysicists dismiss the existence of UFOs. On the other hand, many others have delved deep into these flying objects' source. They appear to be set to spend their whole lives in unravelling the mystery of the UFOs. Amid the country-based and international UFO societies' activities, the make-believe world of the aliens narrated by science fiction writers opened a more thrilling world before inquisitive minds. In a couple of decades sci-fi movie makers took the baton. They punched their mostly fantasized yet minutely researched films with nearly-convincing portrayal of the extraterrestrials --- both wise and peace-loving, and also fiercely intent on conquering the world by wiping out the whole human race. Movie-makers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and dozens of others pioneered the sci-fi films --- Spielberg being the lone forerunner with his 'ET'.

In spite of the movie portrayal of the aliens, pure science had yet to be convinced. However, alien enthusiasts did not have to wait longer. They soon found Stephen Hawking beside them. The celebrated British astrophysicist threw his weight behind the pro-alien groups. Hawking categorically said there were beings more intelligent than earthlings out in the vast cosmos. According to him, the extraterrestrials were most likely to be friendly to the humans.

The prophecy of Stephen Hawking had evidently changed the course of the US space programme. While the other space powers kept themselves busy discovering the signs of the existence of the 'living beings' later lost due to inhabitability, NASA targeted to home in on the aliens directly. Its present destination is Mars. At present, a US probe-rover is scouting an assumedly habitable area in search of the signs of water, the basic prerequisite for life's growth. NASA scientists are highly confident that the red planet will yield life forms today or tomorrow.

While the theologians are expected to engage in endless debates and discourses on the aliens, scientists do not sit idle. They explain the subject in their own way. The topic of aliens has long divided the space scientists, a large part dismissing the possibility of the existence of aliens. But astrophysicists such as Stephen Hawking and his likes are confident that there are other lives somewhere in this universe, or in other universes.

Some of the memorable quotes have found the British scientist Stephen Hawking as having disclosed some startling facts about the extraterrestrials. Weeks before his death Mr. Hawking dwelt at length on a number of riddling topics in an interview. As could be expected, aliens had occupied a major place in the discussion. When asked about the universe and humans, the greatest astrophysicist of the time has said, "The idea that we are alone in the universe seems to me completely implausible and arrogant," adding considering the number of planets and stars that we know exist, "it's extremely unlikely that we are the only form of evolved life." Replying to another question, he said, "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans." The scientist is reported to have once said that aliens might visit our planet. Their object would not be unleashing destruction to Earth. The purpose of their visit would remain limited to knowing first-hand about the planet and its inhabitants. Sounding a great alarm, Mr. Hawking instead told the interviewer, "I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers." In these words he made it clear that there were no threats from the 'guests' from other planets. The crux of the sensational interview was the words as he said, "It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lie another different universe." Hawking concluded the alien chapter by saying, "I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space."

It could never be known what would have been the reaction of Stephen Hawking to NASA's funding for the Theological Inquiry Centre. In most likelihood, he would have kept mum, finding it not worth reacting to. It was because he knew the subject belonged to pure science; theologians had little to do with it. Moreover, the Abrahamic religions believe man is the greatest of God's creations. According to these beliefs, it might amount to heresy to recognise the existence of humans or manlike beings in any other part of the vast universe. The NASA attempt carries the heated elements which once pitted science against religion and the row reached such an extent that the 16th-17th century Italian astronomer Galileo was declared a dangerous apostate. Galileo and his followers had challenged the long accepted positions of the heavenly bodies by using the world's first telescope.

But the very news of NASA's funding of a project on the theological enquiry of alien affairs is capable of sparking interest. NASA must have become sure about the existence of the aliens, or they already have clues. The Area 51 enclosure in a remote part of the Nevada desert adds to the whirling speculations about alien-related research inside it. The site is off-limits to the public, which keeps whetting normal inquisitiveness. Many call it the Extraterrestrial Lab. With the US government agencies reportedly taking UFOs seriously, and NASA's Mars probe becoming deeper by the day, the outside world cannot take NASA's Theological Inquiry Project on life beyond earth lightly. The alien enthusiasts keep waiting with bated breath.


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