One of the fundamental questions that will arise when making contact with an extraterrestrial species one day, is who speaks for the human race? Unfortunately, given our borders, various religions, and conflicting political ideologies, we really have no answer.
Some would point to the United Nations and that would make sense in theory. The head of the UN is António Guterres but that’s probably the first time you’ve heard his name. Can he represent humanity if most don’t really know who he is? Not really. In the recent science fiction film Arrival, the issue of not having a singular leader poses a problem with an intelligent species lands on Earth and attempts to communicate with us.
The United Nations actually designated someone in the case of contact with an intelligent species from another world. Back in 2011, Malaysian astrophysicist Mazlan Othman was appointed the head of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affair and given the role to make first contact with aliens pending approval from UN scientific advisory committees and the General Assembly.
“The continued search for extraterrestrial communication sustains the hope that someday humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials,” said Mazlan Othman to The Australian. “When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The U.N. is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination.”
Othman is no longer the head of UNOOSA but the role has been taken by Italian astrophysicist Simonetta Di Pippo. While it is unclear if she will also bear the direct responsibility of first contact, we do know Di Pippo is working hard to create a global space program that will allow UN member states to fly missions on the Dream Chaser space shuttle. Expanding human access to space makes her a very good (and likely) candidate for first contact.
So who else qualifies for what will be the most important handshake in human history? We put together a list for you and welcome your input on suggestions.
Dr. Jill Tarter
Remember Jodie Foster’s character in the film Contact? She was based on American Astronomer Dr. Jill Tarter. She has spent her entire career searching the Universe for extraterrestrial signs. She was also the head of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)
According to SETI: “Astronomer Dr. Jill Tarter is the holder of the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). She is one of the few researchers to have devoted her career to hunting for signs of sentient beings elsewhere, and there are few aspects of this field that have not been affected by her work. Jill was the lead for Project Phoenix, a decade-long SETI scrutiny of about 750 nearby star systems, using telescopes in Australia, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. While no clearly extraterrestrial signal was found, this was the most comprehensive targeted search for artificially generated cosmic signals ever undertaken. Among her numerous distinguished awards and recognitions, Jill received the 2009 TED Prize, which will empower Jill and her team to take SETI research to an entirely new and broader level.”
Musk is a billionaire industrialist and futurist that is developing and manufacturing bleeding-edge technology across a spectrum of industries. He brought the electric car to the mass market, invented the reusable rocket, was the first private entity to dock a spacecraft with the International Space Station. He’s also about to build sustainable hyperloop transportation in major cities. More recently, Elon Musk has agreed to discussions that could lead to Tesla batteries being used to bring Puerto Rico back from the brink after Hurricane Mari. Musk is widely known and bel and his various companies employ thousands. SpaceX has made extraordinary development in space travel and with Musks leadership, stands a good chance of being the first to step foot on Mars.
“So where are the aliens?” Musk asks. He’s be good when dealing with a civilization far more advanced than ours.
He’s a brilliant programmer and entrepreneur. Zuckerberg brought Facebook from his college dorm at Harvard to the entire planet and connected almost a quarter of all humans on Earth or nearly 2 billion people. That’s something no one has ever attempted or accomplished. Facebook is a part of life whether you are an everyday individual, company, politician, or artist. Zuckerberg is widely respected throughout the world and brought internet and communication to developing nations. He has also made millions in donations to various relief efforts and started the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative with his wife to eradicate disease.
“When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place, Zuckerberg said. “So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power.” Can Zuckerberg’s accomplishments connecting the entire planet be enough to let him represent us? He’s certainly earned the consideration.
Likely, an alien race will have advanced computation and communication technology, Zuckerberg could show that we can achieve the same.
Oprah faced hardship in her early years as a young African American youth. She would rise on the merits of her talent to conquer the news world as a reporter and anchor, dominate daytime television and water cooler conversations for years by tackling social issues, and become a welcomed voice around the world. On the side, she’s produced, starred in, and developed films with luminaries like Steven Spielberg. Oprah has a net worth of 2.8 billion to show for her years of success and has fans around the world. Let’s not forget, she’s also famous for her constant philanthropy. Oprah is an authority on many aspects of society given her years of reporting and working with people from all walks of life and you’ll have a hard time finding someone who doesn’t know who she is. Some think she may run for president of the United States.
With a planet mostly controlled by White Men throughout history, Oprah’s rise and prominence displays that we’ve evolved into a more inclusive culture where everyone can pursue their dreams and be successful.
President Barack Obama
Obama was the first African American elected President of the United States and the leader of the free world. His election inspired the entire planet with rallies for Obama even occurring in places like Berlin, Germany. His attitude toward diplomacy and willingness to work with others besides our differences as a nation and culture, was a highlight of his presidency. He’s known for his eloquent spoken word and those Vulcan-like ears. Remember, it was the Vulcans who first made contact with humans in the Star Trek universe. Also, Obama is a Trekkie.
A world leader is a safe bet for first contact with a more advanced civilization given they may come armed with politics and a diplomatic platform. We’ll need a coherent leader to speak to a leader that manages a society capable of interstellar travel. Essentially, they’ll be super smart.
We’d like to hear what your suggestions are.
Featured Image Credit: Paramount Pictures
Robin Seemangal is a Space Reporter, with a focus on NASA and advocacy for space exploration for the New York Observer. He’s also written for Popular Science and Wired Magazine. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.