On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on Earth’s moon for the primary time in human historical past. 4 days later, they — together with Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins — had been locked up on an American plane service in the course of the Pacific Ocean.
The triumphant astronauts had been in quarantine. Per NASA security protocol written half a decade earlier, the three lunar guests had been escorted immediately from their splashdown web site within the central Pacific to a modified trailer aboard the usHornet, the place a 21-day isolation interval started. The target? To make sure that no probably hazardous lunar microbes hitchhiked again to Earth with them. [5 Strange, Cool Things We’ve Recently Learned About the Moon]
In fact, as NASA rapidly confirmed, there had been no tiny aliens lurking within the astronauts’ armpits or within the 50 kilos (22 kilograms) of lunar rocks and soil they’d collected. However regardless of this absence of literal extraterrestrial life, the Apollo 11 astronauts nonetheless could have succeeded in bringing aliens again to Earth in one other method that may nonetheless be felt 50 years later.
“At this time, about 30 p.c of the general public thinks the Earth is being visited by aliens in saucers, regardless of the proof of that being very poor,” Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute — a nonprofit analysis middle targeted on the seek for alien life within the universe — advised Reside Science. “I believe the moon touchdown had one thing to do with that.”
Shostak has been trying to find indicators of clever life within the universe for many of his life (and, fittingly, shares a birthday with the Apollo 11 touchdown). Reside Science not too long ago spoke with him to seek out out extra about how the moon touchdown modified the scientific neighborhood’s pursuit of aliens and the world’s notion of them. Highlights of our dialog (evenly edited for readability) seem under.
LS: What did the moon touchdown train people about extraterrestrial life?
Seth Shostak: Not an excessive amount of. By 1969, most scientists anticipated the moon was going to be useless.
They knew for 100 years that the moon had no ambiance, as a result of when stars go behind the moon they simply disappear; if the moon had an environment, stars would get dimmer as they acquired nearer to the moon’s edge. Plus, simply have a look at the moon: There is not any liquid, temperatures within the solar are lots of of levels, temperatures within the shade are minus lots of of levels — It is terrible!
That mentioned, I believe the moon touchdown did have an effect on the general public notion of extraterrestrial life. Up till then, rockets and so forth had been simply science fiction. However the Apollo missions confirmed that you might journey from one world to a different on a rocket — and perhaps aliens might, too. I believe that, from the general public’s viewpoint, this meant that going to the celebs wasn’t all the time going to be simply fiction. Abruptly, the universe was a little bit extra open.
LS: In 1969, did scientists assume there could be aliens someplace else within the photovoltaic system?
Shostak: Mars was the Nice Pink Hope, if you’ll, of extraterrestrial life within the photovoltaic system. Folks had been very optimistic in 1976 when the Viking landers plopped down onto Mars that there can be life. Even Carl Sagan thought there could be critters with legs and heads working round there. Scientists had been sort of upset when it did not seem like Mars had a lot life, both.
For those who ask scientists as we speak the place’s the very best place to search for life within the photovoltaic system, they’re going to in all probability say Enceladus or one of many different moons of Jupiter or Saturn. There nonetheless may very well be microbial life on Mars, however to seek out it you will must dig an extremely deep gap and pull stuff up. A few of these moons, however, have geysers that shoot the fabric proper into area, so you do not even must land a spacecraft to seek out it.
LS: What did the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) seem like round 1969?
Shostak: Trendy SETI experiments started in 1960 with astronomer Frank Drake and his Mission Ozma, the place he looked for inhabited planets round two stars utilizing a radio telescope. [After four years of searching, no recognizable signals were detected.]
However by 1969, SETI was being performed informally by individuals who had been working at telescopes, trying up the coordinates of close by stars and hoping to decide up radio waves of their spare time. But it surely wasn’t actually organized till the NASA SETI program started within the 1970s. It was a critical program that, at one level, had a funds of $10 million a yr, so NASA might construct particular receivers, get telescope time and all that form of stuff.
The NASA SETI program started observing in 1992 — and, in 1993, Congress killed it! In the end, a democratic congressman from Nevada killed it. I discover it ironic congressman from Nevada — house of Space 51 and the extraterrestrial freeway — voted down the NASA SETI program, after they revenue extra from the general public fascination with aliens that wherever else.