Communications, Technology, and Extraterrestrial Life: The Advice Brookings Gave NASA about the Space Program in 1960
By Fred Dews
In December of 1960—three years following the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik and just months prior to Yuri Gagarin's and then Alan Shepard's flights into orbit—a team of Brookings researchers led by Donald N. Michael (1923-2000), issued a report to NASA's Committee on Long-Range Studies titled "Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs." (click cover to enlarge image)
In his transmittal letter of the report to NASA, Brookings President Robert Calkins wrote that "NASA ... and the Brookings Institution agreed that there was a wide range of studies in the social sciences that could be made of the potential benefits and problems arising from the peaceful use of space." Calkins added that "the report recommends for the consideration of NASA a wide range of studies regarding the social, economic, political, legal, and international implications of the use of space for peaceful and scientific purposes." . . .
. . . The penultimate section of the long report, about two pages, was about "the implications of a discovery of extraterrestrial life." The authors recognized the unlikelihood of "face-to-face" meetings within the next twenty years, they nevertheless looked ahead to the chance that "artifacts left at some point in time by these life forms might possibly be discovered through our space activities on the Moon, Mars, or Venus."
A discovery of extraterrestrial life, most likely through radio contact the authors believed, "would certainly be front-page news everywhere" and "might lead to a greater unity of men on earth, based on the 'oneness' of man ..." or, due to the tremendous time lag in communications, "the fact that such beings existed might become simply one of the facts of life but probably not one calling for action." The report recommended continuing studies "to determine emotional and intellectual understanding and attitudes" regarding the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life" and studies to understand "the behavior of peoples and their leaders when confronted with dramatic and unfamiliar events or social pressures." The latter aimed to determine how such information might be shared, or withheld, from the public. . . .
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