[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat do we do next? More to the point, does anybody have any plan for what to do, after we find the aliens we’ve been wondering about for centuries? People first started looking for aliens in the 1700s, when telescopes really started getting good. Many were so sure that life was out there, they believed it existed on all observable planets, moons — and even the sun.
As they analyzed the celestial objects around Earth more carefully, it became accepted that life was less common than everybody had thought. And as they began appreciating the space between the stars, they began to understand that searching out life was more of an undertaking than anyone had previously thought, that it might be impossible. But in the Space Age, when people started putting up telescopes and satellites that might see far enough and wide enough that they might find life wherever it is, the expectation returned that we’d find someone out there. And with it came the need to plan.
NASA summed up its only first contact-related plans in a simple report entitled Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis.
Like any good science nerd report, it begins with categorization. There are three general types of contact that would require planning: beneficial, neutral, and harmful. For their purposes, “beneficial” means absolutely any contact that the human race came out okay from. This could range from merely noticing alien news broadcasts to being saved from falling into the sun by alien altruists to being able to quickly and efficiently deal with alien aggressors.
Neutral means finding aliens that are so different, or so bureaucratically tedious (and remember, these are government workers talking about tedium), that any contact with them wouldn’t be worth the effort. Harmful could range from a space plague to them accidentally smooshing us beneath their flying saucers.
Responses to the first and second scenario are, respectively, are break out the champagne, and be disappointed. The third scenario isn’t really a response so much as a warning. No one should send out detailed signals about the biology of humans, lest anyone send out biological weapons. We also want to be cautious about stepping into a galactic c