Weekend Feature: 'Endeavour' Astronauts on Extraterrestrial Life -- "We'll find something out there."
The human race will find life elsewhere in the Universe as it pushes ahead with space exploration, reported astronauts of the space shuttle Endeavour. The US space shuttle Endeavour prepares today to undock from the International Space Station and jet back to Earth, wrapping up its final journey before entering retirement, NASA said.
"If we push back boundaries far enough, I'm sure eventually we'll find something out there," said Mike Foreman, a mission specialist on the Endeavour, "Maybe not as evolved as we are, but it's hard to believe that there is not life somewhere else in this great Universe," he added.
"I personally believe that we are going to find something that we can't explain," said another astronaut, Gregory Johnson. "There is probably something out there but I've never seen it," he said.
Dominic Gorie, the crew commander and veteran of four space flights, points out that explorers in past eras did not know what they would find before setting off across the ocean. "As we travel in the space, we don't know what we'll find. That's the beauty of what we do. I hope that someday we'll find what we don't understand."
But it could take a while before human beings come into contact with extraterrestrial life, Richard Linnehan, a fellow mission specialist and believer in the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, has said: "Unfortunately we are taking only baby steps in outer space efforts, and we left our planet barely a few hundred miles above the atmosphere," he said.
Takao Doi, a Japanese astronaut on past Endeavour missions, agreed "life like us must exist" elsewhere in the Universe. The comments come after a surprisingly high-level debate in Japan about UFOs.
Japan's Foreign Minister, Nobutaka Machimura said in 2007 that he personally believed aliens existed, in an unusual rebuttal to a government statement that Japan had no knowledge of UFOs. Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba went as far as to say that he was studying the legal ramifications of responding to an alien attack in light of Japan's post-World War II pacifist constitution.
At the celebration marking the 50th anniversary of NASA, Stephen Hawking, Newton's heir as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, answered the question, “Are we alone?” His answer is short and simple; probably not!
Hawking presented three options. One, being that there is no life out there; and two –- somewhat pessimistically, but subsequently, a little too realistic –- being that when intelligent life gets smart enough to send signals in to space, it is also busying itself with making nuclear bombs.
Hawking, known not only for his sharp mind, but his sharp sense of humor, prefers option number three: "Primitive life is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare," he quickly added: "Some would say it has yet to occur on earth."
Alien abductions, in Hawking’s view, are nothing more than claims made by “weirdos,” but we should be careful if we ever happen upon an alien. Because alien life may not have DNA like ours, Hawking warns "Watch out if you would meet an alien. You could be infected with a disease with which you have no resistance."
Other prominent astrobiologists have warned that we humans may be blinded by our familiarity with carbon and Earth-like conditions. In other words, what we’re looking for may not even lie in our version of a “sweet spot”. After all, even here on Earth, one species “sweet spot” is another’s species worst nightmare. In any case, it is not beyond the realm of feasibility that our first encounter with extraterrestrial life will not be a solely carbon-based occasion.
So what about water? Isn’t at least water essential to life? Not necessarily. Ammonia, for example, has many of the same properties as water. An ammonia or ammonia-water mixture stays liquid at much colder temperatures than plain water. Such biochemistries may exist outside the conventional water-based "habitability zone". One example of such a location would be right here in our own solar system on Saturn's largest moon Titan.
Hydrogen fluoride methanol, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride, and formamide have all been suggested as suitable solvents that could theoretically support alternative biochemistry. All of these “water replacements” have pros and cons when considered in our terrestrial environment. What needs to be considered is that with a radically different environment, comes radically different reactions. Water and carbon might be the very last things capable of supporting life in some extreme planetary conditions.
Back to their final mission: "Endeavour's crew now will prepare for undocking at 11:55 pm (0355 GMT) by completing a check out of the rendezvous tools and installing the centerline camera before concluding their flight day at 11:26 am (1526 GMT)," NASA said.
Endeavour's 16-day mission began with the shuttle's launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 16 and will conclude when the shuttle lands back on Earth early on June 1.
The team spent a total of 10 days, 23 hours, and 45 minutes at the space station.
During that time, the crew delivered and installed a massive physics experiment, the Alpha-Magnetic Spectrometer-2, that will be left at the space station to scour the Universe for clues about dark matter and antimatter.