Curious about extraterrestrial life? Our LeipGlo columnist Dr. Harald Köpping Athanasopoulos will address this and other burning space related questions this Wednesday, 12 April, when he speaks at the Club International’s English Lounge. Unlike me, who has just seen her fair share of sci-fi, he could actually have some real answers.
While pursuing his Political Science PhD at the University of Liverpool, Harald joined the ESSCA space policy research group and wrote chapters as part of two edited volumes on European space policy. He is currently co-editing a special issue of the peer reviewed journal Space Policy on the popularization of space.
According to him, we are the first generation who may have the means to find out if there is life out there in space.
During his talk, he will present the newest methods used in the international search for extraterrestrial life. The discovery of “aliens” may only be a few years away.
I caught up with him to ask a few questions in advance.
mwd: When did your interest in space begin?
HKA: I don’t remember a specific moment, but growing up in the countryside, I always had a pretty good view of the stars and I was raised with an awareness of the night sky. I got my first book about Mars before I was old enough to remember, and my parents bought me a telescope when I was around 10.
What captured my interest most was that there might be life elsewhere in the universe. I suppose films like E.T., but also conversations with my dad fostered that interest.
Would you go to space if you could?
Beam me up, Scotty! No, seriously, I’d be way too scared. Once they’ve built a space elevator I might consider it, but I get really bad motion sickness, so I’m afraid that zero-g is not something I’d enjoy. I once thought about applying to move to Mars with Mars One, but I could never leave my family behind.
Do you think space tourism will happen in your lifetime?
Yes, I think so. Virgin Galactic is offering suborbital flights for $100,000 and lots of people have already bought their tickets, including Leonardo DiCaprio. They have had to push their launch date to the end of the decade because they had an accident, but they are very ambitious and I’m positive they’re going to make it.
SpaceX wants to shoot people around the Moon and back before the 2020s. Elon Musk may sound overly ambitious, but so far, he’s delivered on all his promises.
What do you think is really in Area 51?
There is some evidence to suggest that it’s the headquarters of the Grey aliens, which would also explain the disappearance of the Navajo Indians and 9/11. Honestly though, the X-Files was my favourite series as a kid and I watched each episode multiple times – but I don’t believe in UFOs. In space, the distances are just too great to permit for interstellar travel. The point that I want to bring across in my talk is that if we do find life, it is likely to be microbial.
What’s your favourite space movie and why?
I’ve mentioned E.T. already – that film really played a huge role in igniting the public imagination (although it gave me nightmares for years as a child).
But my personal favourite is Contact with Jodie Foster. It has a great story with an awesome protagonist, it contains a strong message about the value of science, and it really depicts how unlike us alien intelligence is likely to be. The recent film Arrival was also fantastic, although I think it doesn’t really count as a space movie.
Some say the space program is really about war. What do you think?
Rockets were initially developed by the Nazis as an attempt to attack the continental US. When the War ended, the Americans and Soviet stole the Nazi plans and used them for their space programs, saving them years of work. There certainly is a military aspect to space programs and it would be silly to deny that. If you can shoot a rocket into space, you can also shoot it at your enemy, and if you have a satellite that monitors the environment, you can also use it for espionage.
However, if you look at our world today, space is one of the few policy areas that really transcends traditional alliances. Euro-Russian cooperation in space is working marvellously, and Americans continue relying on Russia for all human spaceflight activities. The ISS is an amazing example of international cooperation. I’d like to think that space exploration brings out the best in humanity, although the technologies required for it can also be used for harm.
Club International presents
Are we alone in the universe?
Dr. Harald Köpping Athanasopoulos
Wed 12 April
Doors open 6.30 pm
Talk starts 7.00 pm