Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Visitors that Might Come with the Visitors

When societies meet there are often repercussions that are hard to predict. Biological passengers have traveled with explorers throughout Earth history, often with devastating results. In 1507 Spanish settlers brought smallpox to Hispaniola, and a few years later it spread to the Mexican mainland. The Aztec and Incan populations were hit hard. In 1633 it was the Pilgrims arriving in the northeastern United States that brought smallpox and Native Americans were victims of the disease. Human visitors can harbor unseen disease and spread it to populations who do not have the levels of immunity needed to fight the disease. But could such things happen with extraterrestrial contact? It’s certainly not a new question. For H.G. Wells in 1898 pathogenic bacteria provided the ending for his book “War of the Worlds." Invaders from Mars succumbed to common Earth microorganisms, thus ending their reign of terror.

It’s not just the threat to humans, but also animal and plant life. In 1904 American chestnut trees in New York were found to have a new disease. It led to a blight that spread quickly and wiped out billions of American chestnut trees. The species of tree which blanketed the continent and helped build America was now a rarity. The blight was found to be Asian bark fungus, thought to be brought in by Asian chestnut trees imported to the United States.

Biological threats are worrisome enough that customs agents on the U.S. border with Mexico are as much concerned with imported plants, as drugs or other contraband. California has manned check stations for years in an effort to keep out flies and other organisms which might attack crops. If it is such a problem here on Earth you would imagine there is a chance that interstellar biological threats could be a real concern when it comes to greeting extraterrestrial visitors. You might expect that the visitors would do some research of their own before coming to visit. They would be concerned with their safety and welfare, and perhaps with ours. They would have to do some basic testing to see if the atmosphere would support them, and what threats they might face. It’s entirely possible that visiting extraterrestrials would not be able to have direct contact with us at all. No matter what the circumstances of their research it would seem prudent to conduct much research of our own before allowing them direct contact with Earth atmosphere. Even landing craft would need to be checked for any harmful impact to our environment. It could be that a safe propulsion system for the extraterrestrials is dangerous for us.

Biosafety would be an immediate concern and require immediate action. The Centers for Disease Control would most likely be called into the First Contact scenario. There are four established biosafety levels. Biosafety level four, the highest designation, is designed to protect against the most dangerous agents. There are labs around the world that operate under biosafety level four. Measures of protection include sealed air supplies, multiple airlocks, ultraviolet rooms, and a variety of decontamination procedures for those who work in the labs. The Federal Government operates many such facilities here in the United States. You would imagine that we would want to figure out a procedure for testing extraterrestrial visitors, and we would do such at biosafety level four. This might provide a new fear for people, but it would be a reasonable precaution and a necessary action.

In the future, after First Contact, such testing may need to occur for every extraterrestrial visit and become a standard at all Earth landing sites. But the big question will be how ready we are if First Contact occurs. Would we be able to move rationally and thoughtfully to set up a system of checks in the initial hours and days after First Contact? Would we overreact and consider contact to be such a threat that we needed to respond hostilely? You would hope that calmer heads would prevail in a First Contact situation. Considering we have done nothing scientific as a civilization to prepare for the possibility of First Contact the odds are not with us. The only type of preparation we have done is to protect against terrorist biological attacks. Unfortunately this puts First Contact directly in the path of the Department of Homeland Security in the United States. The involvement of such a massive, and troubled, agency is very concerning. There needs to be a delicate balance of safety versus diplomacy in First Contact. We need to be wary and open at the same time. We need to establish a rational, scientific process for investigating possible biological threats and respond with care. You would hope that extraterrestrial visitors would be well aware of these concerns and help. Ultimately though, it’s our planet and our responsibility.

First Contact Extraterrestrial Alien Proposal Idea Hello Introduction Space Visitors

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