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Breaking Through Editorial: Aliens from the Basement
(Originally Published January-February, 2000 In Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #29)
by Eugene Mallove, Sc.D.
It is coincidental that this essay touches on aliens— where they are and what energies they might command. Coincidental, because in this issue (p. 29) you will find optical physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee's article, "Prosaic Explanations: The Failure of UFO Skepticism." Infinite Energy does not, of course, intend to become a magazine of UFO investigation, as I note in introducing Maccabee's article. We are very interested, however, in promoting open-minded discussion of evidence for major claimed anomalies in science beyond radical new energy sources. We are particularly concerned whenever the methodology of evidence handling is abused and masqueraded as careful investigation, as is often done by some skeptics.

For better or worse, "aliens" have entered the evolving paradigm of how science is conducted. They will affect us all. Looking back on my own career in engineering, science, and journalism, I realize that a good part of it has emerged from an interest in the possibility of extraterrestrial life— aliens. In my teenage amateur astronomy days I wondered passionately about which planets in our Solar System might be inhabited by intelligent life— or by anything we'd recognize as life, let alone the intelligent variety. This was at the early post-Sputnik beginning of the Space Age.

While doing coursework at MIT toward my two degrees in aeronautical/astronautical engineering, I became most interested in very advanced propulsion systems— ones that could open the Solar System for humankind, beyond the pathetic chemical rockets of then and today.

With sufficiently advanced propulsion, such as ion engines or fission-energized rockets that heat hydrogen propellant, we could at least visit more easily those places nearby where life might be found. Another link of past with present: The molten-core (liquid droplet core) fission nuclear rocket was the subject of my Master's thesis. Now defunct, the fission rocket era of the 1960s might be reborn when low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) can perform as reliably as or better than conventional fission— sans the need for massive neutron shielding.

To be frank, my interest in rocketry and aliens came from the basement. As did many others, I had a teenage romance with dangerous pyrotechnic ignitions— an outgrowth of early 1960s basement experiments with bombs and rockets. (This was before the era of packaged model rockets, which are now commonly available.) "Basement bombing" was a typical rite of passage for apolitical, pre-terrorist-era male youth. (In 2000 such activities might land a teenage boy in jail. In 1960, the fire marshall merely told me and my friends not to do such things any more, at least not with 0.75-inch diameter copper pipes stuffed with gunpowder!) Today officialdom is sand-bagging us again. The DOE fire marshals and an academic priesthood warns us away from much more significant experiments: "Stop! Don't do cold fusion." Alas, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Patience, aliens are coming. Paralleling rocketry, I grew interested in the search for extraterrestrial civilizations via radio-telescopes (then called CETI, now SETI). This had just begun with Frank Drake's brief microwave observation of Epsilon Eridani and Tau-Ceti back in 1960— Project Ozma. That search was in the "water-hole"— near the 1420 MHz hydrogen emission line. My fascination was intense and early. Long before Carl Sagan became a household name, as a fifteen-year-old I attended and taped one of his earliest lectures on extraterrestrial life— on a portable (reel-to-reel!) tape recorder at a local junior college in New London, Connecticut. Carl was a great salesman for aliens even then. He certainly helped sell me, a mathematics teacher's and plumber's son— not a scientist. I did not go into plumbing, but the water focus of my father and grandfather may have recapitulated itself when I entered the cold fusion— water-as-fuel— controversy.

As the noisy sixties wore on, it became clear that the Solar System, interesting as it seemed, was not enough. We just had to plan for interstellar travel if we were ever to encounter really interesting planets with intelligent beings. Especially hard to find would be "dumb ones" (Carl's words) like us, who might not have an interest in microwave signaling. There would be smart ones too. Some of the early books on SETI spoke of a Kardashev Type-II civilization, which might have gotten control of the entire energy output of its star by wrapping it in a durable cocoon. That would be quite a feat, but still just solar power writ large. We might see these societies, or so it was suggested by Freeman Dyson, by observing their infrared emissions. A Kardashev Type-III civilization might command the energy output of an entire galaxy.

This was all postulated with a straight face, with hardly a thought about where the stupendous energies of Kardashev Type-III would come from. If it wasn't solar power, what could it be? That was left unanswered. It is amazing what stuff can be discussed in polite academic circles, providing it doesn't actually do anything or have any direct relevance to contemporary technologies. But bring in a civilization-changing jar of heavy water that creates excess heat, and all hell breaks loose.

Maybe the aliens were deep into hot fusion, or perhaps antimatter annihilation? Later came speculation about black holes and titanic energies that might be derived therefrom. Thermonuclear fusion, the nemesis of today, seemed to me then more reachable. One of my propulsion courses at MIT incubated a paper that showed that Robert Bussard's interstellar ramjet concept seemed to be on the right track. He had the idea of scooping up interstellar hydrogen that could be used ramjet-style in a fusion propulsion system. The rocketry problem would be solved by scooping up tenuous interstellar fuel along the way— much easier said than done. In 1989, as the cold fusion age dawned, Dr. Gregory Matloff and I compiled summaries of what was then known about interstellar flight— The Starflight Handbook: A Pioneer's Guide to Interstellar Travel, John Wiley & Sons.

Then there are the UFOs. Even the great Sagan had had a fling with them, as did I in the early 1970s; I even investigated a few cases as an avocation. Who wouldn't be curious about all these strange reports of aliens actually here, which surfaced from time-to-time. Sagan grew inclined to dismiss all UFO reports, although he did argue that past visitations might well have happened— that we should be vigilant for any archeological signs of visits in the safe, distant past. That seemed and still seems a paradox to me: believing that "others" well might have been here 200,000 years ago and left calling cards, but are unlikely to be here now. Hmmm.

It all boils down to what the physics known to the aliens might allow them to do. If you believe that physics is largely a closed book resting on secure pillars, you might well be inclined to dismiss as bunk the reported visits and gymnastics of alleged alien craft. But certain "safe" articles have begun to appear in even the mainstream literature that suggest that star travel by very unconventional means might not be all that difficult for ETI— and for us eventually. When we're collectively smart enough not to deny even carefully measured, well-reproduced excess energy and nuclear products from electrochemical experiments, then maybe we'll have passed the intelligence test for starflight done with new physics. Not until then.

Scientific American, January 2000 features the article, "Negative Energy, Wormholes and Warp Drive." The ordinarily conservative, cold fusion-denying Scientific American editors appear quite enthusiastic about this scheme of Lawrence H. Ford and Thomas A. Roman. This is how they promote the article: "Contrary to a popular misconception, Albert Einstein's theories do not strictly forbid either faster-than-light travel or time travel. In principle, by harnessing the elusive force of negative energy, one can shorten stellar distances by bending space time around would-be star trekkers."

Editor John Rennie calls this a "legitimate scientific perspective." Why "legitimate"? Why, of course, because the authors are using the "laws of physics," meaning the "laws" that Rennie believes are the law. The article is "safe" for Rennie, because he knows that we are unlikely to get ourselves a bunch of "negative energy" to create the star drive. Again, mainstream scientists' speculations based on accepted "laws" is fine for those of Mr. Rennie's mold. Just let there be any claim that someone on Earth— or smart aliens elsewhere— might have solved the problems of star travel or infinite energy in a more straightforward way, and the claimants are dispatched to the appropriate Gulag of the present Inquisition.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke recently broke the Nature barrier via a message to Earth couched in science fiction and humor. Read his stellar essay in Nature, Vol. 402, November 4, 1999, p. 19, "Improving the Neighbourhood." The essay drew a bit of critical mail, perhaps because Clarke generously and courageously dedicated it at the end to "Drs. Pons and Fleischmann, Nobel laureates of the twenty-first century."

Written from the perspective of a nearby alien civilization, the essay recounts the aliens' observation that Earth civilization destroyed itself in what may have been an "industrial accident." Clarke writes slyly, "After several false starts, involving low-temperature nuclear reactions of scientific interest but no practical value, they succeeded in tapping the quantum fluctuations that occur at the very foundations of space-time. This gave them access to a virtually infinite source of energy." The aliens' perspective on we terrestrial bumblers? Clarke: ". . .by mishandling the ultimate forces of the universe, they triggered a cataclysm which detonated their own planet— and, very shortly afterwards, its single large moon."

Clarke's message may not be just an entertaining story. We should be prepared to find these "industrial accidents." One can see already that the cosmos is a very violent place. What part of that violence might be attributable to life forms remains to be learned. An attraction to aliens that for me began in the basement has brought me full circle. I have come to believe that if infinite energy based on new physics is really there for the taking, as I firmly believe it is, of course the aliens have it! And of course they could/would use it to come here. This says nothing about whether they are already here and what they are doing— entirely different questions. The people in SETI and the UFO communities should think about that.

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