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Earthlings Talk, but Is Anyone Out There Listening?

November 17, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Earth to aliens, Earth to aliens, are you listening?

OK, get this. You’re welcome to visit New York, maybe check out a basketball game or two, but make sure you bring plenty of cash (there are some great real estate deals you wouldn’t want to miss).

That, in part, is what earthlings had to say to their extraterrestrial neighbors Thursday when AT&T gave people an opportunity to direct dial the rest of the universe.

The company set up a camera and microphone outside its Manhattan headquarters and began recording about 30 hours of videotaped messages that will be beamed via satellite into outer space sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Passers-by were encouraged to step up and sound off, so long as they weren’t obscene.

The idea was to let those aliens - if they’re out there, if they’re intelligent and if they get good TV reception - know we’re here.

The extraterrestrials might want to know, for instance, the news that 13- year-old Moises Bermudez was anxious to communicate to the void: ″I hope you saw the Knicks versus the Bullets. Because the Knicks won.″

Or this message from 24-year-old Tom Franz, a Madison Avenue real estate agent: ″I have this great real estate investment here, but I need $25,000. If you’re interested, give me a call.″

Alistair Levy, a 9-year-old visitor from London, was friendly: ″Life on earth is great here. I hope you have a nice time invading us.″

Kiernan Varas, 13, an eighth-grade classmate of Moises Bermudez at Manhattan’s Clinton School, was thoughtful: ″I hope the quest for knowledge lasts forever.″

And another classmate, 13-year-old Lisette Lazu, was poignant: ″Hello, my name is Lisette. I’m deaf but I would like to hear from you.″

The search for extraterrestrial life is nothing new, as AT&T officials are quick to admit. Scientists have sent messages for aliens into space before, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration funds a project, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, that is devoted to hunting for signals from beyond.

Furthermore, normal radio and television signals are escaping into space all the time, setting out on theoretically infinite voyages that could someday bring reruns of ″Mr. Ed″ into living rooms in another galaxy.

Given all that, what’s the point of adding to the intergalactic information glut?

Former astronaut Michael Collins, now a private consultant who was hired by AT&T to appear at the space message promotion, had an answer.

″I think the fundamental problem of trying to communicate with other parts of the universe is that the universe is just so large and covers such a time span ... that any effort to send a message out is worthwhile,″ he said. ″Any time you add to the sum total of information going out, I think that’s a worthwhile effort.″

Is there intelligent life out there?

″I think the prospects are good,″ Collins said. ″I think if you look out there and count the number of stars and then begin making the most pessimistic assumptions, you still have to conclude that there are trillions and trillions of stars as suitable as our own for sustaining life. I think it’s a form of cosmic conceit to think that we’re the only planet in the entire vast universe which has been successful in that regard.″

In other words, as 12-year-old Luis Maldonado said, there’s ″a pretty good chance. We can’t tell if there is something else out there and we can’t tell if there’s not.″

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