Friday, March 15, 2024

Insight: In search of extraterrestrials

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

If you missed this bit of news last week, a Pentagon study says there is no credible evidence that exists verifying U.S. authorities covered up extraterrestrial life in the form of unidentified flying objects.

This follows decades of persistent rumors that an Unidentified Flying Object crashed near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and an alien spacecraft and deceased occupants from another world were quickly removed and covered up by members of the U.S. military there. A 63-page report offered simple explanations for unexplained UFO sightings and what it says are up to 40 percent of Americans who believe the U.S. has been visited by spaceships containing alien beings.

The report also refutes claims that the U.S. government and private companies have been able to access alien spacecraft and use reverse-engineered extraterrestrial technology for top-secret projects.

As a teenager, I spent a lot of time reading science fiction stories and comic books about visitors from outer space and this Pentagon report got me to thinking about what my life and our culture would have been like without the mention of aliens from other worlds.

Since I grew up watching television, one of my favorite shows as a small child was “The Adventures of Superman” starring George Reeves. Superman himself was an alien visitor to Earth, sent here by his parents as a baby to escape the destruction of the planet Krypton when it exploded. I later had a subscription to the “Adventure” comic book featuring the Legion of Super Heroes who were a group of superpowered alien beings.

Many episodes of sci-fi programs airing in the early 1960s such as “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits” involved scary extraterrestrial visitors in one way or another. And if I wanted a good laugh, there was “Uncle Martin” the Martian with funny antennae as played by Ray Walston on the comedy “My Favorite Martian.”

When “Lost in Space” and “Star Trek” debuted in the mid-1960s, alien characters on television increased significantly. For me, the character of Mr. Spock of “Star Trek” stood out, as Leonard Nimoy portrayed a half-human logical being from the planet Vulcan with pointed ears and green blood. Spock’s popularity opened the door for acceptance of alien characters in further television programs and in movies going forward.

In the 1970s, alien characters were everywhere in entertainment.

Films such as “Star Wars” in 1977 introduced the world to strange creatures such as Jabba the Hutt, the Wookie Chewbacca, and Yoda, a small and wise centuries-old green Jedi. On television, viewers tuned in to Robin Williams as the alien Mork from the planet Ork on the comedy “Mork and Mindy.”

By the 1980s, it was hard to miss the flood of alien characters permeating our world. There was the powerful alien who devoured humans in the movie “Predator,” or a lost extraterrestrial who wanted to phone home in director Steven Spielburg’s “E.T the Extra-Terrestrial.” In the movie “Cocoon,” the residents of a Florida nursing home discover an alien fountain of youth in a swimming pool. In “Starman” actor Jeff Bridges played an alien creature who inhabits the body of a dead man from Wisconsin while trying to reconnect with his spaceship. TV's "Alf," short for Alien Life Form, was about an alien creature living with an American family. 

On television in the 1990s, hit shows such as “3rd Rock from the Sun,” or “The X-Files” or “Babylon 5” continued to focus on aliens while defeating alien invaders in popular films such as “Independence Day” and “Men in Black” fascinated moviegoers.

And if you’re thinking that the Baby Boomer generation is the only one to be preoccupied by the thought of aliens visiting our world, may I remind you of a story my father told me about when he was in high school in the 1930s and was listening to the radio one evening and a program was broadcast that severely panicked Americans because of its topic.

It was a CBS radio adaptation of an H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel by a troupe of actors led by Orson Welles called “The War of the Worlds” about an invasion of Earth by hostile Martians. Some listeners to that broadcast were convinced that an extraterrestrial crisis was unfolding in America as alien spacecraft were landing in New Jersey that night before Halloween in 1938. My father said that broadcast felt so real, he didn’t know if he there would be school classes the very next morning.

Now as an adult, I must confess that I am not among the 40 percent who believe that alien spacecraft have visited our planet and I find it interesting that funding was authorized by The Pentagon to determine if the government has any sort of evidence or testimony of aliens or extraterrestrial spacecraft hidden away in storage.

That doesn’t mean that I do not wonder if somewhere out in the universe, there is an alien civilization which is like our own. I believe that our basic human desire is to think we are not alone in life, and it has led to the ongoing popularity of television series and films about aliens and space exploration in our culture today.

If the idea of alien existence was not part of our culture, I surely would have spent parts of my life differently.

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