What if we really are alone....?
|Is There Anyone Out There?
Allan James Lammiman
There are a number of things which every budding explorer should bear in mind before they set out to explore the cosmos. Firstly, it cannot be done. At least not by himself. It will take generations of like-minded people leap-frogging from one inhospitable outpost to the next before even a fraction of the space we see through our telescopes can be mapped and conquered; if indeed it can be conquered. Even if his descendants succeed in reaching the nearest star, it will very likely take them most of the lives to reach it, and what they are likely to find when they get there is anyone’s guess.
The second thing is that actual act of space travel is not an exact science, in spite of what you may have heard. There are stars that burn so bright that they would blind you in an instant, and have gravity fields so powerful they disrupt the path of any object venturing too near, making it almost impossible to travel in a straight line. Other stars emit such powerful amounts of radiation that one single micron would fry the toughest of spacecraft, and there are black holes which given the slightest chance will swallow the unwary space voyager whole before he, or she could say `What’s that?’ And of course space is very, very, very cold. It will freeze the hottest of curries in the blink of an eye. And there is no air to breathe. In short, outer space is a very dangerous place to venture into.
Lastly, and by no means least, like time, outer space is endless. Which brings us back to the first point. There is no way it can be explored fully. There is one good thing however. As time is also endless it means the human race, if it survives long enough, has plenty of time to devote to the task.
With all these problems and, no doubt many others in mind, one would wonder why anyone should want to bother exploring the universe. After all, what is there to gain? Well many reasons have been put forward; The Earth is unlikely to last for ever and the in the end the human race will have to find somewhere else to live; Earth is becoming too small to house its increasing population and will need room to expand or risk facing self annihilation; Another reason put forward was that if we did not then who would? (This pre-supposes that there is someone else.) But out of all the reasons put forward it is generally accepted that the main reason was mankind’s own inquisitive nature. He needed to know what was out there. Was he indeed alone in the universe? The last question probably was the most compelling one of all, for if the answer was no and there was another planet with intelligent life living upon it, then these aliens very existence could have far reaching consequences for the future of the human race.
In spite of all the unanswered questions, or maybe because of them, the people of Earth actively began to explore the cosmos in the early 1960’s. The accepted definitive date in later centuries was in the year 1969, as this was year man first landed upon the surface of the moon. There were space flights before then of course, but as these involved unmanned craft or simply orbited the Earth and came back again, many historians discounted them as true space exploration missions.
The early years of space exploration were slow to gain any real progress. But by the mid twenty-first century the moon had been fully mapped and a number of research bases had been established. Bases had been established on Mars, Venus and on space stations at the solar systems outer edge. In the intervening years both manned and un-manned probes had been sent to every planet and moon in the solar system, including Pluto. Also a series of massive space telescopes had been built to peer into the farthest reaches of the galaxy. By the beginning of the twenty-second century, satisfied that their own system had been sufficiently explored, the people of Earth sent the first manned interstellar vessel out of the solar system to explore the nearby star system of Alpha Centauri, which was only 4.5 light years away. The primary mission of crew of the massive vessel was find and make contact, and if possible bring back examples of other lifeforms. Proving the existence of alien life had become man's greatest quest.
In spite of the immense speed of the interstellar craft, the journey to the far away star still took many years and by the time the ship returned, the crew on board were old men. They brought back with them a collection of items including a number of rock samples, many of which were precious, as well as countless bytes of computer data. But as to the main part of the mission, that of finding intelligent life, the trip was deemed a failure. They did however find planets that, with a little effort could be made to sustain human life.
And so spurred on by this news, the leaders of Earth decided to go on with their quest and built and despatched a further ten ships to Alpha Centauri. Space exploration is not without its hazards however, and only three of the ten ships returned, the remaining seven having been destroyed by a meteor shower on the outskirts of the Earth's solar system. But what the crews of the surviving ships brought back with them was to give momentum to mans belief that alien life could indeed exist outside their own system. So much so that another series of missions were undertaken. Not only to explore the Alpha Centauri system, but also to set up bases from which the exploration could be controlled. These missions, designed to be launched over a period ten to twenty years, were also tasked to finding a suitable sight for the setting up a colony on one of the new planets - Earth's population was growing.
While the expeditions were under way, other vessels were tasked with the creation of a series of space stations between Earth and Alpha Centauri star system. The plan was that once a suitable planet was found, one of the expedition ships would return and report into one of the space stations. Once the ship had docked the station would then re-supply it and relay its report on the conditions on the new planet and what supplies the colonist there needed, back to Earth. Thus the time it took to travel from one outpost of civilisation to the next was reduced considerably. Soon a steady stream of information was flowing back to Earth. The information received from Alpha Centauri gave Earth's increasing population the belief that there might be better life out waiting for them there, and so a large numbers of people applied to emigrate there.
These voyages continued for next hundred years, until it was thought that the time was right for the human race to move on to the next star system. The humans on Alpha Centauri built a fleet of ships, equipped to sustain a crew for a much longer period of time. And they trained volunteers to man the ships and to live on any planets they might find. Space stations were constructed to link the new worlds with Alpha Centauri. It was to be the start of man's colonisation of space.
By the start of the twenty-fifth century, man had established a series of bases and colonies from Earth to Alpha Centauri, to 61 Cygni and out as far as Vega, which is some twenty-seven light years distance from the home of the human race. As each colony was founded, its inhabitants sent back ships and reports to the previous base. That base in turn sent back a ship to the next base and so on, until the message finally reached Earth. For decades the message was the same. New world found. No indigenous intelligent life. Colonising and moving on to the next star system.
This leap frogging of star systems continued for another five hundred years, during which time the people of Earth had almost given up on the idea of finding alien life. The colonists too had almost given up on the quest, as well as forgetting their ancestry. They began to change - adapt to their new environment. A new language was developed by them, one more suitable for their new lives. But they still sent messages back, although of course by the time they were received by Earth they were decades, sometimes hundreds of years old. The people of Earth waited eagerly for these messages, although many thought that they had originated on Alpha Centauri. Few people realised just how far into space the colonists had ventured. And why would they? The messages never said. They were always the same. New world found. No indigenous intelligent life. Colonising and moving on to the next star system. The only indication was the originating location ID, which was often lost in translation.
By the year 3210, these messages had become more frequent. Which was not surprising because mankind's technology had developed far beyond what was available during the early days of space travel. The starship of the thirty-third century could travel at speeds close that of the speed of light. Solar travel too was fast. It took an inhabitant of Earth only five months to travel to Mars. Although by now few people bothered. With the populations under control, life on Earth was so good that Mars was mostly abandoned to the mining companies.
Then one day it happened. A message arrived from Alpha Centauri that stated that a planet, with life already upon it, had been detected. A first contact mission was to be undertaken and more information would follow. The people of Earth waited in anticipation of the news. However as it would be at least a hundred and twenty years before the proof humanity had long awaited would finally reach Earth, many people wondered if the long wait would be worth it and soon forgot about it. After all, mankind had been searching for nearly three thousand years and had found nothing. And anyway if there was intelligent alien life out there, surely they would have found and contacted Earth themselves by now. So life went on.
Then to everyone's amazement, some fifty years later, after a total of one thousand, three hundred and thirty three years after the first man had set foot on the moon, an unidentified space vessel was detected entering Earth's solar system. It had projected of the know ID codes and all attempts at contact were unsuccessful. There could be only one explanation. The Earth's leaders could hardly believe it. After all the years of searching for alien life, alien life was about to contact them. For the first time in the history of the quest, a message went from Earth to the colonies that an alien civilisation was about to make contact with Earth. The vessel entered the solar system. As it past Pluto, its speed slowed considerably and it began transmitting coded messages. As these were in an unknown code, it was decided to place Earth's defences, such as they were, on full alert. But as the ship had already past the automatic bases orbiting the outer planets of Neptune and Uranus without incident, it was decided not to intercept it and allow it to reach Earth. Coded friendship messages were returned advising the aliens that a landing site in the Arizona desert was being prepared. A base was constructed away from the population, where the representatives of the planet could gather and greet the aliens. All thought of the colonists message of fifty years previous was forgotten, for the big question was about to be answered. There was life out there.
Finally on the 1st of April, in the year 3301 Earth's telescopes finally caught sight of the alien spacecraft. It was big. About the size of one of Earth's own exploration craft. It passed Jupiter, negotiated the Van Allen asteroid belt, swooped by Mars and headed directly for the source of the friendship transmissions - Earth.
The ship landed and Earth's representatives gathered. News broadcasters trained their cameras on the spacecraft and waited for its occupants to emerge. Slowly the craft lowered its landing ramp, behind which the ship's airlock could be seen. The airlock opened with a hiss. A blue/green light shone out from the inside and a figure about two metres tall and clothed in a silver spacesuit and helmet emerged. Another two similar figures followed the first, and all three began walking slowly down the ramp towards the waiting dignitaries. Their motions were slow and clumsy, as if the aliens inside the suits were used to a lighter gravity. The appointed Earth delegation made their way forward, to meet the visitors half way. The two groups stopped a few feet apart and looked at each other. The leader of the Earth party took a deep breath and held out his hand. Slowly and hesitantly he spoke his prepared greeting - the same greeting which every human, Earth born or colonist, had been taught for generations. `Welcome to Earth.'
The aliens, still helmeted, looked at the Earth delegation and then at each other. Then slowly their leader took off his helmet. The other two aliens followed suit. When the helmets were off, the Earth delegation gasped in surprise and took a step back in wonderment. The alien leader's face belonged to that of a man of about thirty. His skin was a pale brown, his hair was blond and he had the bluest of blue eyes. His two companions were a man and a woman; both aged about twenty-five and both had the same colour skin, blond hair and piercing blue eyes. The alien leader took a step forward and held out his hand. In what sounded like a practised speech, he said with a hesitant smile,
"Hello. I bring you greetings from the people of the Vega colony and, of its mother planet, Earth. I am pleased to meet you."
The Earth leader blinked twice. "Y-yes. T-thank you." he stammered.” It's been a long time, hasn't it?"
After a millennium of space exploration, across countless millions of miles of space, the people of Earth finally came to the conclusion, that the nearest thing they will find to intelligent life inhabiting the cosmos, was the human race itself.