Commentary: Space Travel

By Louis A. Zona

One of the most creative minds ever to walk on this planet was the late filmmaker, actor, and broadcaster, Orson Wells. If he had given us only the film thought to be the greatest movie in the history of filmmaking, “Citizen Kane,” he would still be considered the absolute best.

Among other creations, Wells is also known for a radio production, “War of the Worlds,” that a Chicago radio station broadcast Oct. 30, 1938.

My father used to tell me about that memorable broadcast in which thousands of listeners believed that the Wells production was actually news coverage of the landing of aliens in New Jersey. With sound effects, and serious newslike coverage by “reporters” in the field, Americans believed that invaders from Mars had landed near Trenton, N.J. These Martians were not nice. They attacked Earth and its inhabitants.

Northern New Jersey was a war zone as people believing every word took to the streets. Eventually, Wells needed to come clean. It was all acting. It was merely a story carried out to perfection by the genius Orson Wells.

Wells would have loved the recent news that the United States government has opened its files on UFOs to the public. It is an action that UFO aficionados have wanted for generations. Sadly, little new information came out except to confirm sightings.

My neighbor Jeff is a retired pilot who worked many years for United Airlines. I asked him if, during his years of flying commercial passenger jets, he had ever seen anything that would have made it into that government file of unidentified flying objects.  

Jeff described an incident that occurred on a cross-country flight. He and his co-pilot saw a huge object the size of a football field flying in sync with his passenger jet.

It kept pace with Jeff’s plane even though it appeared to have a different type of propulsion. Within minutes, it veered off and out of sight. Jeff was deadly serious when he told me this.

While I am not inclined to pay any attention to those stories about alien abductions from an Alabama cornfield, I feel differently about my neighbor’s description of what he experienced.

I, for one, would like to believe that there is intelligent life out there and the laws of average say that we cannot be alone.

I once heard a (now retired) professor of astronomy at Youngstown State University, my good friend Warren Young, explain the unfathomable size of the universe, saying that there are five to 10 times more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the earth. Imagine! So as I join the legions of non-believers about the probable absence of intelligent life out there, the math surely says something else.

If you have never seen the Steven Spielberg film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” I recommend that you see it the next time it’s on television. Each time I watch it, I want to become the Richard Dreyfuss character in the film who gets to take the ride of his life aboard a vessel from another world.

When I was 7 or 8 years old, my favorite television program was “Captain Video and His Video Rangers.” These were the very early days of TV with cardboard sets and not-so-skilled actors. But kids my age loved it.

Eventually my favorite show was “Star Trek” with the characters Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu. Science fiction films, particularly those that deal with space travel, still hold my interest. So do the recent accomplishments of Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, whose private space travel companies are leading the way toward an industry where private companies, and not government programs or NASA, are doing exciting work.

Speaking of NASA, we once exhibited the art of astronaut Alan Bean here at The Butler. Because he was the fourth man to walk on the moon, I asked him about the capacity of his computer on his spacecraft.

“Your old flip phone,” he answered, “has far more computing power than the computer that took us to the moon and back.”

I also asked him about any fears he had. Was he afraid knowing that the unthinkable could have happened?

He responded, “I flew experimental fighter jets and sometimes flew them upside down as part of my service. There was no room for fear in our work.”

Carl Sagan warned of hoping that creatures from across the galaxy would visit our world. According to Sagan, any creatures capable of traversing interstellar  space would be most superior to us in every way and therefore would not necessarily be friendly.

Scientists continue to search the skies for any hint of extraterrestrial life, including the use of powerful radio listening devices. Thus far, all that they have been able to detect is whatever happens to be on the AM broadcast band, ordinary broadcast television or the radar defense network our military uses. I really do not expect much more than that.

I do feel bad, however, for any aliens who happen to latch onto ordinary broadcast television and think they have found intelligent life – only to realize that what they are hearing is “The Beverly Hillbillies” when Grandma buys a new shotgun and Jeb falls into the cement pond.