We should start thinking about how to interact with alien species long before coming into contact with extraterrestrial life, experts say.
Coming up with a strict set of guidelines that govern the way people on future interstellar space missions study and interact with aliens is imperative before anyone blasts off to a distant world, according to attendees at Starship Congress in August.
While a "prime directive" — the rule that prevented Star Fleet officers from interfering with the business of alien life-forms on TV's "Star Trek" — might be a little extreme, such a rule could help govern interactions between aliens and humans. [13 Ways to Contact Intelligent Alien Life]
"In the event that we discover evidence of intelligent life on another world, that will be a social, cultural and technologically influential event to human affairs which will need to be managed with great care and to ensure our culture and their culture remains intact and not disrupted by this new knowledge," Kelvin Long, the founder of Project Icarus, said during a panel on Aug. 16.
People traveling to distant stars will be carrying tangible and intangible aspects of human culture with them, so it should be curated responsibly before being sent to an alien planet, one expert said.
"I think it comes down to how we're going," Armen Papazian, the CEO of the International Space Development Hub, said. "Do we trust that this is a beautiful universe, an incredible cosmos? Do we really believe that it's an amazing landscape, it's a bed of stars?
What do we think we're going out there to find and are we going to embrace it or are we going to utilize? Are we trying to export our scarcity economics or are we trying to enjoy the abundant cosmos? … Whatever we are here, we're going to export wherever we go."
It's possible that humans in the future will have no desire to land on exoplanets after free-roaming in space for years at a time, Icarus Interstellar President Richard Obousy said.
"I'm not convinced that when we have the capabilities to build starships … that we'll want to go from one gravitational abyss to another gravitational abyss," Obousy said. "I'm not convinced that settling on planets or even moons is going to be necessary."
Humans can't help but explore and interact with the world around them, Icarus Interstellar's James Benford said during the panel.
"We won't leave them alone," Benford said. "We would like to explore alien ecology extensively to understand if there are any interactions leading to incompatibilities.
We would need to establish human research stations to do that because it's a complex problem. It seems unlikely that there would be interference between separately evolved ecologies, especially if we minimize contamination and wear the appropriate suits."