Ania Mininkova

The idea that in the whole universe life is unique to the Earth is essentially pre-Copernican. Experience has now repeatedly taught us that this type of thinking is very likely wrong.

Why should our own infinitesimal niche in the universe be unique? Just as no one country has been the centre of the Earth, so the Earth is not the centre of the universe."


Life Cloud, Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, 1978

From the Curator

In the spring of 1979 the SETI Green Bank Observatory and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope simultaneously detected a potentially artificial object in the second galactic quadrant.

Unresponsive to the attempts of communication, the object, which scientists at this point believed to be a spacecraft, entered Earth’s atmosphere and crashed off the coast of mainland Florida.

An international rescue team of astronauts, biologists, linguists, and military traveled to the crash site and managed to recover and transport the only survivor to a nearby military hospital. This was our first meeting with intelligence of extra-terrestrial origin: the species known as Octopus Adastris.
 
This exhibition recounts the memories of the witnesses of this anticipated, feared and uncanny meeting before we knew what First Contact would bring us.

It also invites you, the viewer, to think how your life would be different now if First Contact never happened. Can you imagine living in the old world, where wars and borders still existed? 
​May 10th, 1979. 10:25 pm. NASA astronomer Mike Kirsanov sends this image to his colleague, Nick Russell.

Nick Russel, an American astronomer who was among the first two people to see the object moving towards the Earth:

Mike Kirsanov called me back minutes after I sent the message. He saw the object too, and he couldn’t hide the excitement in his voice.

Neither of us had seen anything unusual in this quadrant of space before, but we needed each other’s reassurance we weren’t seeing little green men.

I was about to hang up when he said to me: “Nick, tomorrow, when it reaches Earth, nothing will be the same.”

Magda Potrykus, Earth’s Acting Ambassador at the U.N.'s Office for Outer Space Affairs:


I always knew that the time we put into thinking about extraterrestrial contact scenarios weren’t mere entertainment. Everyone who contributed to the First Contact protocol went through an extensive reading list of science fiction; more than a hundred books, from H.G. Wells to Ursula K. Le Guin.

I just never thought it would prove to be useful in my lifetime.

People all over Florida could see the spacecraft’s trail when it entered the atmosphere that night. 

We had boats with divers, linguists, biologists, and of course, military personnel all over the coast. Was I worried? No, not about the aliens themselves. A society capable of interstellar travel should have a highly developed ethics. It was unlikely they would eat us.

I was anxious about how we were going to handle this - divided, torn by conflicts, ideologies and selfish interests.

Shu Yeung, CDC Director, Center for Global Health:

The CDC was involved from the start: if we found something or someone, it could possibly be carrying pathogens that would be deadly to humans. 
The Columbian Exchange in 1492 almost wiped out the American peoples, and there was a chance we could share their destiny in the case of extraterrestrial contact.

My team and I hoped that extraterrestrial pathogens would differ so much from Earth-bound organisms, that no contamination could happen. But of course, we couldn't know for sure. 

A body of the Octopus Adastris navigator K’chai Mittiaa recovered at the crash site. 

Image courtesy of G’aatan Clan Foundation 

Tim Stephen, HBO News Presenter:


Those who didn’t go on-location in Florida were in the studio; even people who didn’t have to work that day came. We were the first to get news from the crash site and the contact team. I doubted we would be reporting on anything else for the next few days while we were broadcasting live in Fort Lauderdale. Boy, I was wrong.

I realized there was a profound change when the National Emergency Services sent our press room an update: there were NO reported suicides in the U.S. in those first 48 hours. Not a single person took their life since the crash. The amount of reported violence of any kind dropped almost to zero.

Everyone held their breath while we learned who the surviving pilot was, and wha her arrival meant to us all. 

It was a moment that seemed like the whole world stopped in their tracks and just took all this in with a sense of wonder, almost disbelief. My god, can this really be happening?

Evacuation capsule found on Fort Lauderdale Beach by the Contact team

Kh’aaa G’aatan, the Octopus Adastris pilot rescued from Fort Lauderdale beach. 

Image courtesy of G’aatan Clan Foundation

Kate Lopez, Xenolinguist of Interstellar Language and Colour Studies Center:


I think I'm the luckiest woman in the world because I had the privilege being the first human to communicate with Kh’aa. But at the time I was terrified: what would I do, what would I say to a conscious being from another world?

She resembled our terrestrial species so much that I was sure it was only a matter of time until we’d find a way to communicate with her. If two sentient species could meet in the vastness of time and space, if they could share the same environment, they most definitely could communicate together.

I thought that hand and tentacle gestures would form the basis of the common language, but once I dove into Kh’aa’s pool, I realized that her skin was the most sophisticated language device I’d ever seen.

She would change her skin color and pattern through nervous-system control of chromatophores, the same type of skin cells that Earth octopuses have. 

I was afraid at the beginning that we’d never leave that hospital. That some multinational bureaucracy would take over and we’d be moved to a secret underground compound somewhere, forever imprisoned with this incredible, sentient being.

But this never happened. It was too groundbreaking and astonishing of a discovery: we now knew we were not alone. And it changed every human being on the planet. 

Kh’aa G’aatan, Octopus Adastris Pilot: 

I remember seeing the bright blue planet dangerously close on the navigation screen and K’chaii Mittiaaa signaling to me through the capsule liquid that she had lost control over our trajectory.

I thought how this all resembled my paternal grandmother’s dream story. She used to tell me how our ancestors’ village was carried away by a space storm to some distant part of the universe, never to be found again.

I woke up from the feeling of my skin burning. I was in extreme pain, and I couldn’t feel 3 of my tentacles. A group of tall beings was approaching my evacuation capsule: one of them lowered its body beside me and poured water on my burning skin.

Despite my injuries, I could see they were using their tentacles proficiently, and they had sophisticated machinery. I have traveled far and wide across the galaxy in my 750 years of life, but I had never witnessed anything like that.

I felt that I had survived the crash for a reason. I was the first Adastris to meet intelligent species outside of our home planet. I had broken the Principle of Non-Interference, but my life up until then seemed like a preparation for this moment. There was just one thing I was to tell them: I come in peace for all my kind.

Image Credits

1. The first Deep Imaging Survey image taken by NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer. 

NASA/JPL/Caltech / Public Domain


2. Apollo 7 Earth orbital mission's commander Wally Schirra.
NASA / Public Domain

3. Space Shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after take-off.

4. STS-51-L Recovered Debris.
NASA / Public Domain

5. Scientists Carolyn Griner, Ann Whitaker, and Dr. Mary Johnston in training at Marshall Space Flight Center.
NASA / Public Domain

6. USNM 1151661 cf. Opisthoteuthis specimen. Collector: Dr. Ross Robertson, Cristina I. Castillo
Smithsonian
https://collections.nmnh.si.edu/search/iz/?ark=ark:/65665/37340d05bcedc46818c884eb1d01e31ac

7. Mars Pathfinder Air Bags.
NASA / Public Domain

8. Scientists Carolyn Griner, Ann Whitaker, and Dr. Mary Johnston in training at Marshall Space Flight Center.
NASA / Public Domain
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