Hawking Says, Don’t Phone ET; NASA Says, Too Late

By Ker Than

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

That was the gist of NASA’s response to advice from famed British physicist Stephen Hawking that humanity should stop trying to attract the attention of aliens, some of whom could be hostile to us Earthlings.

Hawking issued his warning during an episode of the Discovery Channel series “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking,” which began airing this week.

In the show, the physicist speculated that aliens could be roaming the galaxy, Christopher Columbus-style, in search of new planets to colonize—and they could be aggressive.

“If so, it makes sense for them to exploit each new planet for material to build more spaceships so they could move on. Who knows what the limits would be?” Hawking said.

But in a teleconference with reporters today marking 50 years of astrobiology, NASA senior scientist Mary Voytek said the space agency plans to continue seeking out extraterrestrial life, no matter what form it may take.

“Our approach to solar system exploration is that we’re prepared to make discoveries of any type of life … and we’re prepared to make these [discoveries] using the latest techniques in planetary protection, intending to protect the Earth and our species,” Voytek said.

But even if we wanted to stop trying to make contact, it’s not like humanity really has a choice anymore.

Thanks to our penchant for radio and TV shows, Earth has been broadcasting stuff into outer space for decades. Even now, an alien civilization in a star system far, far away may be trying to make sense of old I Love Lucy episodes.

“We’re going to keep broadcasting, and whether you do it intentionally or not, the signals are already out there,” said Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover missions.

“That horse left the barn a long time ago.”

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