tv Reel America Whos Out There - 1975 CSPAN June 20, 2021 4:00pm-4:30pm EDT
american history tv on c-span3. every weekend documenting america's story. funding comes from these television companies and more including comcast. >> you think this is just a committee center? it is way more than that. >> comcast is partnering with a thousand community centers to create wi-fi enabled zones so students from low income families can get the tools they need to be ready for anything. >> comcast. along with these television companies supports american history tv on c-span3 as a public service. >> hosted by film and theater director orson welles, who is out there is a 1975 nasa film that begins with the story of the famous 1938 radio adaptation of the hg wells novel the war of the worlds. a broadcast that panic many listeners who thought that martians were invading the united states. the documentary uses scientists
including cart -- mclean carl sagan to explore views on the possibility of extraterrestrial life and ways to communicate with intelligent civilizations in the universe. ♪ orson: "before the cylinder fell, there was a general persuasion that through all the deep of space, no life existed beyond the petty surface of our own minute sphere.
[wind blowing] we know now that in the early years of the 20th century, this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's. across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as our minds are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool, and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and surely drew their plans against us.
hello. i'm orson welles, and i have been quoting from another wells -- no relation -- h.g. wells, the distinguished novelist, historian, prophet who was also the great master of science fiction. he wrote "the war of the worlds," on which was based a certain notorious radio broadcast which some of you may remember send many thousands of our listeners panicking into the streets all over the country. h. g. denounced me for doing it, but later when he realized that our broadcast, like his story, was not intended to cause riots but just to entertain, we got to be good friends. and i was forgiven. whether all those people who jammed the highways and even took to the hills to escape the martians have forgiven me is another matter.
>> we thought that this was it. listening to that show, we were very impressionable at that age because of buck rogers and flash gordon, and that made a big impression on us. >> one fellow in particular who owned a store took the money from his cash register and loaded his car with food and took off for the mountains and left his wife and children at home. >> new york city was just demolished. and they were coming closer. >> new jersey is an inferno, and they are proceeding south. >> i can conceive of no nightmare as terrifying as establishing such communication with a so-called superior, or if you wish, advanced technology in
outer space. narrator: george wald is a nobel-prize-winning biologist, one of a group of distinguished scientists meeting on the subject of extraterrestrial life. all the people you will be seeing in this program, scientists, radio listeners, orson welles, have one thing in common. each has had reason to believe in the likely existence of non-earthly life in the universe. >> there is no question that we live in an inhabited universe that has life all over it. >> what i am imagining is that the facts i have just stated becoming generally known so that people know that out there is a million other civilizations, they all look fabulously ugly and they are all a lot smarter than us.
that seems to be useful, and moving experience for mankind. narrator: from the monstrous martians of his famous broadcast, orson welles will be taking us through from a science fiction to science fact to a new view of , extraterrestrial life now emerging from probes to the planets, interstellar discoveries, and findings about the nature of life itself -- a real picture, as astonishing in its way as the science fiction of 1938. orson: if there is life out there, intelligent life, how did we ever get the notion that it might be otherwise than friendly? mars is the god of war, so the planet bearing its name might be expected to have warlike intentions. in our broadcast, the martians were as aggressive and ruthless as any human being, a ridiculous assumption on the face of it. they were supposedly as bad as we are, at our worst.
and also, much uglier. they brandished death rays in their slimy tentacles. for a while at least, just toward the end of the radio play they appeared to be totally , invincible. what finally stopped them? well, here is the way it went. in the words of the mythical professor pearson of princeton, our commentator, "i remember," he said, writing in his journal when the whole thing was put together again in the world was in business, "i remember wandering through manhattan, standing alone on times square and catching sight of a lean dog running down 7th avenue with a piece of dark brown meat in its jaws. i walked up broadway past silent shop windows and suddenly caught
sight of a martian machine. and then across columbus circle, i could see standing in a silent row, 19 of those great metal titans, their cowles empty, their steel arms hanging listlessly by their sides. and i looked for the monsters that inhabit those machines and then before my eyes, i saw them, stark and silent, the martians themselves, with a flock of hungry birds pecking and tearing brown shreds of flesh from their dead bodies. later, when their bodies were examined in laboratories, it was found that they had been killed by disease bacteria, against which their systems were unprepared, slain after all man's defenses had failed, by the humblest thing god in his wisdom had put upon this earth,
the common cold. and that is the way it was. well, quite a lot of things have happened in the world since then. an invasion from the planet mars, that at least is one thing that didn't happen. but in a way, you know, we have been invading mars. if mars hasn't been invaded, it certainly has been investigated . not attacked, but thoroughly, very thoroughly studied. observations of mars had begun long before our broadcast. even back then in 1938, it seemed plausible to many people that life could have developed on mars, just as it had on earth. peering through telescopes, scientists had seen, what? well, first a planet that, like
our own earth, had polar ice caps. ♪ they were fascinated to see that the ice caps grew and receded with each year. large areas changed color with the seasons. did that mean vegetation? straight lines were cited on the planet's surface. some called them canals. the american astronomer percival lord believed these martian canals had been created by an advanced technological
civilization. first, in 1965 and then again in 1969, nasa sent space craft to flyby mars and send back scientific measurements and close-up photographs. >> this is pidgin 21. a rented picture, wide-angle picture, fantastic picture. that is beautiful. that is full. >> this is a narrow angle camera view. orson: the missions were great achievements for the scientists. but the pictures of mars showed a world of total desolation. was mars less like the earth and more like the moon? there were no canals. no cities, no areas of cultivation, no signs of upheaval or layering in the martian crust to indicate the planet was evolving geologically. the pictures revealed no
volcanoes to spew out gases that could enrich the atmosphere, add water, so essential to life, seemed to be present only in traces. the atmosphere was so thin as to make the possibility of life seem even more remote. for the fans of science fiction, not very exciting, but for scientists, the whole excitement is finding out the facts. that is the whole name of the game. these first flybys had revealed only some of the facts. but all the same, the exploration of mars and of all the other planets in the solar system was actually getting underway. >> i can't feel that any person with any soul can look out in that universe that surrounds us and can imagine the immensity of it, the history of it, without being rather impressed with the
idea that we, as little atoms made of the same stuff the stars are made of, have the capability to regard the other part of the universe, one piece of the universe has the ability to look at another part of the universe and wonder about it. that is a very amazing thing and it brings into one's mind all kinds of thoughts about religion and philosophy and so on. >> don't ask me about life on mars, ok? orson: in the fictional martian story in "the war of the worlds," it was understood the martians were fighting for their own survival. their planet was growing so cold and inhospitable that they might perish if they remained, while real-life confined to such a planet would fight for survival by trying to change itself, by evolving. every living thing on earth has evolved from the lowly, the invisibly small microbe.
given nourishment, the microbe will grow colonies so fast that they rapidly become visible to the eye. here on our planet, microbes have adapted to survive the most hostile conditions -- arid deserts, the frozen himalayas, in trenches under thousands of tons of pressure in the ocean deeps. biologist at ames laboratory are discovering adaptive capabilities in life forms that, a few years ago, would have been regarded as fantastic. within the cooling systems of atomic reactors, organisms have been discovered, flourishing where radiation could be expected to destroy any living thing. in hospitals that use ultraviolet for sterilization, strains have been found, resistant to the killing radiation. biologists are growing organisms
in salt solutions, and acids, alkalines, ammonia gas, in boiling hot springs, in a nice -- in ice that is thawed every day. in the vacuum of a space simulator, life forms have been flourishing for years without oxygen. ♪ scientists are studying the kinds of environments that could challenge life forms on the planets and moons of the solar system. in 1971, mariner nine arrived at mars, equipped to go in orbit and stay for a while. a good thing too, because when it arrived, mars' surface was obscured by a global dust storm. as the storm abated, a whole new
mars began to make its appearance. the first feature that swam into view, poking up through the dust, appeared to be a huge impact crater. but it stood miles above the martian low lands, on the peak of an immense mountain. as the dust settled further, the stunning truth emerged that the mountain on mars was indeed a gigantic volcano, so geologically, mars was not a dead planet after all. vast stretch marks on the planet showed that mars's surface is shifting and changing on a colossal scale. mars is beginning to look, geologically at least, more like the earth and less like the moon. and then, new evidence of water has begun to turn up in surprising ways. among the many clouds in the martian atmosphere, some have been found to be composed of
water. then, close-ups of the surface have begun to turn up strange, sinuous patterns. some compare with patterns cut into the surface of our own planet by the mississippi river. slowly, the interpretation emerged that only a fluid flowing continuously over the martian surface could have caused such patterns and erosion. some scientists didn't agree and astronomer carl sagan theorized mars contained a great deal more water than we had supposed. the water might remain locked in its crust as permafrost during ice age times such as the present, but during cycles of warmth when the polar caps release gases to form a heavier atmosphere, the water may be released into clouds. such clouds could bathe the planet in rains for thousands, perhaps millions of years. if sagan's interpretation is correct, life could have originated on mars in favorable
cycles, and may have adapted itself to harsher conditions as they developed, and indeed may exist on mars to this day. biologists are studying other environments even as they per repare just search directly for life beyond the planet earth. ♪ -- even as they prepare to search directly for life beyond the planet earth. ♪ flying by jupiter, pioneer 10 confirmed estimates that within its atmosphere are combinations of gases similar to those in which life originated on earth.
while a second pioneer is being aimed to pass jupiter and fly by saturn, earth-based measurements show that a moon of saturn nearly the size of the planet mercury contains an atmosphere, water, and surprising warmth. a viking spacecraft is being readied to land on mars in 1976, carrying an automated chemical laboratory to sample martian soil for life forms. the discovery of just one bacteria on mars, or any other body of the solar system, would indicate that the whole chain of evolutions -- cosmic, chemical and biological -- is at work everywhere. in that case, the creation of life anywhere in the universe would be more the rule than the exception. in that case, there may be other
intelligent civilizations capable of communicating with us. an impact on ourselves with ourselves of contact with another civilization, how it might come out and what the effects might be is now being discussed by serious thinkers the world over. this symposium at boston university includes astronomer carl sagan, anthropologist ashley montague, and the dean of the harvard school of divinity. a professor teaches a course entitled search for life in the universe. professor philip morrison of m.i.t. co-authored the first seriously-reasoned paper on possible modes of communication with extraterrestrial life. george wald won the nobel prize in 1971 for his work in physiology. >> it is now ok to talk about
life elsewhere, whereas a decade or two ago, it wasn't ok. it was considered too speculative to be worth any investment of time. >> the number of stars in our galaxy alone is so staggeringly large, the probability of stars having planetary systems is so high, we think the probability that those planetary systems might be comparable with our own and the stars have some sort of ecosphere, a sphere where it is suitable for life, not too hot, not too cold. these bits of information have come from astronomy primarily. and we join with biochemists to tell us about the probable evolution of life on earth, amino acids and the like, which have now been found in meteorites. we have now found interstellar molecules floating in space between stars.
so if you know the materials for carbon-based life to exist, we know the building blocks of life exist off our planet. if you put these probabilities together, it leads to the sorts of conclusions that we started with as an initial premise and with which no one on the panel has apparently disagreed, and that is that life must exist in the universe and it must exist quite abundantly. >> the most optimistic estimates about the number of civilizations there might be in the galaxy is in the order of one million, which means only one in a few hundred thousand stars has such civilizations. >> and that would mean a billion such places just in our own galaxy that might contain life. >> i believe there is a society of these groups, not just one. if there's only one, we have no hope of finding them. there are probably thousands, maybe as many as a million.
they probably have a long history of this same experience, finding new ones. >> i imagine if an advanced civilization wanted to talk to us, they would say those guys must be extremely backwards. >> in 1970, a study of the feasibility for picking up interstellar communication was made in california by radio scientists, astronomers and others. it was called project cyclops. the outcome was that the united states had the capability to scan the heavens with great resolution and power sensitivity to a distance of many hundreds or thousands of light years. and with the very distinct possibility of picking up a signal if it were there. >> our present technology is able to detect ourselves anywhere in this galaxy of $250
-- of 250 billion stars. >> the people beaming the first, message will be incredibly alien. even if their biochemistry resembles the biochemistry professor wald teaches, it will not be all that close, you know. it will have enzymes, but it will be, the lr the ld situation will be quite different, and i don't know what chains of enzyme systems they will have at all. and you couldn't eat their food, very likely, even though they're the same biochemistry, any more than you would eat the food of a mushroom. first of all, there will be two great phases of this eventual time which i think will come in , 10 years or 100 years or, i don't know, maybe longer, when some satisfactory radio telescope work or something similar will acquire evidence of the deliberate beaming of a
message, protracted message, out into space. so i think that will be easy and, of course, extraordinarily important. you will know very little of what that message says save that it exists, and maybe some general geographic information from how far away it's coming, what kind of a star, where, and then i think that you will have pouring into the recorders, pouring into the recorders, week after week, month after month, decade after decade, an enormous body of obviously interesting and meaningful pulses. and you'll be able to read them slowly and fitfully because they will not be coded but they'll be anti-coded. that's to say, the people who designed them, the beings who designed them, will have thought very carefully how to make the maximum number of mathematical clues. the best way to single out the meaning will be made available. i think the most important thing that it will bring to us, if we can finally understand it, will be a description -- if it exists
at all -- of how beings disposing of great technology were able to fashion a world in which they could live and persevere and maintain something of worth and beauty for a long period of time. >> and finally it would end our social and cultural isolation. to date, we have been bounded not only to our own countries and regions in our planet, but within our solar system itself. if there are billions of other civilizations which the predictions indicate there might be then we would join a larger , galactic community. orson: in 1976, we would be able to explore mars for perhaps not so humble microorganisms. before and after that, we will be searching the planets and the galaxies for clues to fill in the new patterns we are
discovering -- the evolution of evolutions that has produced us, and the possible millions of other civilizations. >> it is conceivable that a ship will land in front of the washington monument and a figure with antennas and otherwise four looking like a professional football player will come out [laughter] and demand to see our leader. but i hope very much that the universe of circumstances is wider than the shoddy imaginations of science fiction writers. i'm convinced it is. we have not found their guidance so great in any but the most modest activities like going to the moon. orson: the difference between spacecrafts of nasa and the lurid flying saucers of the old radio "the war of the worlds," is the difference between science and science fiction and
yes, the difference between war and peace. our own world has turned out to be the interplanetary visitor. we are the ones moving out there, not with death rays, but with cameras, not to conquer, but simply to learn. we are in fact behaving ourselves far better out there than we ever have back here at home on our own planet. ♪
>> in 1997, the u.s. air force published reports on the so-called roswell incident in 1947 in the new mexico desert. the alleged sightings of aliens and ufos have led to numerous books, conferences, documentaries, hollywood films, and several museums alleging a u.s. government cover-up. next on reel america, a video companion to the air force reports. this 1997 document to your -- documentary argues experiments involving high altitude balloons, parachute-dropped crash test dummies, nasa test flights, and several air force accidents were behind the public sightings.