In 1969 I was living in Chicago, and was a junior in high school. That year I watched the launch of Apollo 11, watched men walk on the moon, and I saw a movie called 2001. After the movie, I remember adding up the years and thinking how lucky I was, that I would be there to experience the wonders of the world in 2001 painted so vividly by Stanley Kubrick in that movie.
Today, I live in San Francisco, and work in the computer software industry. Remembering my high school dreams of space exploration and adventure, I cannot shake a nagging sense of betrayal. Where is the Pan-Am Orbital Space Clipper? Where is the Hilton Hotel spinning majestically in orbit? Where is the moon base? Where is the manned exploration of the planets? In the 34 years that have elapsed since 2001 the movie, it is even more clear now than it was in 1969 that Kubrick's vision could have been realized. On time. On schedule. If we had the will. If we had the leadership.
In retrospect, the vision in the movie would have been a better blueprint for NASA than the path that they followed, and better than the path they are on today.
Thoughts about SETI and SETI@home
I notice that many of the seti@home profiles contain a statement like this:
"I believe that there must be many intelligent species in the vast expanse of the universe."
For myself, I believe that we are alone in the universe.
These are both simple statements of belief. Neither statement of belief is more valid than the other. Neither has adequate scientific evidence to refute or even claim a higher probability than the other. Some will find my belief to be an expression of human arrogance. Fair enough. I find the belief in extraterrestrials to be remarkably similar to the belief in angels and heaven and gods - benevolent superior beings living in the sky that will bestow wonderful gifts upon us if only we can communicate with them through prayer or through radio transmissions in the hydrogen/water hole.
This is why SETI is so very important. It is our best chance to find the truth. To move beyond "belief". It is interesting to note that proving "ET" exists is much easier than proving that "ET" does not. We only need to find one example to prove ET exists. It is actually impossible to prove the negative - that ET does not exist - with the same certainty.
Nevertheless, the longer the search goes on without finding evidence of ET, the more comprehensive the search becomes without locating ET, the more the weight of probability shifts the balance. Every Work Unit without a "hit" is another piece of evidence that ET does not exist. That probability is rising every day. We are approaching the date that scientists will begin to conclude that the preponderance of evidence clearly and unequivocally favors the conclusion that we are alone.
Some will find this conclusion unacceptable regardless of the evidence. I find it incredibly exciting. To think the vastness and the immeasurable resources of the universe are all ours to explore fills me with wonder and awe.
Perhaps when we stop looking for angels or aliens to bring us the answer, we will find the will within ourselves to take our place among the stars.