Episode 35: Oh I Am What I Am (Roswell Fan), I’ll Watch What I Want (Roswell), But I Can’t Hide (That I Love Roswell)

Image of the Roswell Daily Record (a newspaper) from 1947 with headline: "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region"

Image: Roswell Daily Record from July 9, 1947 detailing the Roswell UFO incident. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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Transcript

Charles 0:27
Hello, and welcome to Assigned Scientist at Bachelor’s. I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist.

Tessa 0:31
And I’m Tessa and I’m an astrobiologist.

Charles 0:34
And today, it’s just the two of us to talk about the first two episodes of the classic alien team drama, Roswell. And we’re talking about the good one from 1999 and not the new one from a couple of years ago that I don’t care about at all. Because it’s not Roswell. So as, as with many things that I bring to the podcast, Tessa, I’d love to know your background with Roswell.

Tessa 1:02
I remember like hearing about it and seeing promos for it, like when it first aired, but I was, I don’t know, 12 at the time, so it was a little too old for it to be of interest to me. I recall hearing mostly good things about it, but I never really got into it. And honestly, I’d kind of forgotten about it for the most part until you mentioned it to me.

Charles 1:23
I first watched Roswell in its entirety, I think when I was like 16. And I’ve watched it all the way through a couple of times since then. I’m very attached to it. Intellectually, I know that it’s an extremely corny show. But also, I… I, just there’s this certain quality of relatively low budget sci fi from the 90s and early 2000s that we’re just never going to get back.

Tessa 1:54
Surprisingly charming, I will say.

Charles 1:57
It’s charming!

Tessa 1:59
It’s very charming,

Charles 2:00
Max’s really annoying, but we’ll get into it.

Tessa 2:03
Yeah, I noticed that. I was like, okay, maybe it’s just because I’m a lesbian, but I’m not seeing the appeal of this dude at all.

Charles 2:09
I’m very gay. And I I wouldn’t… I would not… I’d go out with a woman before I went out with Max. That guy really bums me out. Yeah, I guess. Yeah. Okay. So to set up sort of the premise of the show, there are a bunch of teens who live in Roswell, New Mexico, which of course, is one of the classic alien sites in sort of American extraterrestrial lore. Because of, you know, the Roswell crash site.

The perspective character of the show primarily is Liz Parker, who is a big nerd. She’s very academic. She’s very science minded. And she’s played by Shiri Appleby. And she works as a waitress in her family’s diner along with her best friend, Maria, and they are both humans. And there ends up being a shooting over some financial transaction in the diner, and Liz gets shot. But surprise, Max, who is sort of a classic broody, silent boy, is an alien and has magical alien powers. And I don’t know… dissolves the bullet and heals her wound. And then a bunch of stuff happens after that. So how did it… how it treat ya, how’d you like it?

Tessa 3:30
Um, yeah…

Charles 3:31
And I will say before you, before you answer, if it’s a negative evaluation, I’m never talking to you again.

Tessa 3:37
No, I enjoyed it. You know, like I said, it’s very charming. It’s very earnest. And, you know, there’s a certain aesthetic about these 90s teen dramas too, that you know, they really there’s sort of a, a innocence to them. And I was also, you know, there were a lot of little things that surprised me, you know, for example, I was not expecting this, but the fashion in the show, at least the parts that I paid attention to in particular, it has aged kind of well.

Charles 4:01
Well, I think it’s also the cyclicality of trends, right?

Tessa 4:06
True, true.

Charles 4:06
This is exactly the time that, like, hip Gen-Z-ers are drawing on now.

Tessa 4:11
Oh, that’s a good point. Because like, you know, crop tops apparently are really in right now. And they’re right off tops on the show, so.

Charles 4:18
Well, also my knowledge of what Gen-Z-ers think is hip and which Gen-Z-ers are hip comes exclusively from TikTok, so I may or may not be on the money on that.

Tessa 4:27
I mean, I think that’s true for most Gen-Z-ers as well.

Charles 4:30
Are there any actual science fictional ideas in the episodes that you thought were interesting, creative or insightful?

Tessa 4:38
The one thing that I found interesting was that one of their powers was explicitly… because there’s three aliens. There’s Max, there’s Isabel, and there’s Michael.

Charles 4:46
Yeah. And just as a, you know, to put it in, very classic archetypes, Max. He’s silent. He’s broody. He has broad shoulders. He’s hot. Question mark. The show wants you to think he is. Then there’s Isabel, who is played by Katherine Heigl. And she’s supposed to be like the hot, cool Girl. And then there’s Michael, who is very, very classically, the troubled bad boy, who has an abusive foster dad. And I’m not being joking about the idea of having an abusive foster dad, because that sucks, but there is no, there’s not a single scrap of nuance in that portrayal.

Tessa 5:28
It is not a subtle show.

Charles 5:30
[snorts] No.

Tessa 5:31
Admittedly, that’s part of the charm. Yeah, I like the fact that one of their powers explicitly was ability to sort of like detect and manipulate, like molecular structure, both because A, that’s like a really versatile power to have. And so, you know, from a writer’s perspective, I can imagine that allowing you to do a lot of stuff in the future that you may not have initially planned for. But you know, you can justify it now, because you can do a lot with that.

But also, B, because they did play around with it in some interesting ways. Even the first two episodes. I mean, you know, there’s the useful things like that’s how it, Max healed Liz after she got shot. And they can also use it to break into buildings by basically melting the locks temporarily. You know, I did like that, you know, that was pretty clever, I think. And it’s not really we don’t usually see supernatural or superhuman abilities, like contextualize in the sense of I’m playing around with some things molecular structure. I thought that was cool. Yeah, so that’s like, that was like the major thing that stood out for me from a science point of view. I’ve got some other notes, too, but they’re closer to snark, or just, you know, the fact that I kind of wish the crash festival was a real thing, because it looks like a lot of fun to go to.

Charles 6:42
Yes, the ending shot of that episode is so funny, accidentally, because it’s the three aliens looking at the like, simulacrum of the crash that they do very, like, longingly and full of sadness. And it’s like, I guess that would be sad, if you are a crash landed alien. This is another thought I had, which is, we get a lot of like teen romances with werewolves, with vampires… not a lot of alien content out there.

Tessa 7:11
No, no, you know, I really think that Roswell was probably ahead of its time in that respect.

Charles 7:16
Absolutely. Why do you think it is that we don’t have more alien stuff? Like even in Animorphs, there was Jake and Cassie, and Rachel and Tobias but nobody was hooking up with Ax.

Tessa 7:31
Yeah.

Charles 7:32
And by hooking up I mean, like, making crush eyes, because they’re all like 13.

Tessa 7:36
Yeah. Especially since I mean, you know, you can even take a human form if he wants to. Yeah, I think it’s because it’s easier to romanticize sort of like mythological creatures, partially because the rules for them are, I guess, a bit more established in sort of popular consciousness of Oh, yeah, you’re a vampire. You can’t go out in the sun for whatever reason, are you Oh, yeah, you’re a werewolf. You know, once a month, you’ll turn into this Ferocious Beast, whereas aliens, it’s a bit more open, which I guess is a, you know, it’s a good thing, because it allows more creativity, but at the same time, it I suspect, it may make it a bit harder to sell. Since you know, you can’t just say, Oh, it’s an alien love story. And everybody’s gonna know what it’s more or less what it’s about as the same way you could say, Oh, it’s a vampire love story, because everybody knows what those tropes are.

Charles 8:23
I also wonder I’ve, you know, you read a lot of like, folkloric analysis, right? And it’s like vampires represent sexual taboo, because you know, there’s piercing and there’s – dad don’t listen – there’s sucking, and there’s sort of the seduction of a vampire that’s very, like intimate, and like, animalistic. And then similarly, with werewolves, there’s like a total loss of control. And also they get very hairy, right, which certain groups of gay men particularly are into, shout out to all my bears in the audience. I appreciate you. And I wonder if it’s just like none of us can land on like, what is the like sexual subtext of aliens?

Tessa 9:14
Yeah, and I mean, like, it’s also odd because like, specifically in like the teen romance section of it, because I mean, like Mass Effect series did fantastically well, in part because you could shag a bunch of the aliens on the crew.

Charles 9:27
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tessa 9:27
But that’s very much not necessarily something designed in the mold of a teen romance.

Charles 9:33
But actually, I think Becky Chambers really has tapped into…

Tessa 9:38
Oh, yeah, that actually is a good one.

Charles 9:40
The romantic and sexual potential of aliens because all of her aliens offer like just enough familiarity that it doesn’t feel like kind of inappropriate beast reality, but enough distance, that there’s still a little spice for there to be some interest, right?

Tessa 10:01
Yeah, no, I think that I think that’s a very good way of sort of, like, conceptualizing what she is doing really, really right.

Charles 10:08
Shout out to Becky Chambers. But yeah, what we’re talking about, oh, sexual potential. Well, then this is a great segue to Max, and how much that guy sucks. He sucks. He’s really annoying, and he only gets more annoying.

Tessa 10:24
Yeah, I definitely. I couldn’t really figure out like, what his purpose is. I mean, I know what his purpose in the story is supposed to be. But like, he never was very good at inhabiting it of Oh, here’s a love interest. And he’s better than Kyle. in most respects. I think that’s a pretty low bar.

Charles 10:40
Well, this is the thing. So Kyle is the guy that Liz was dating over the summer, and he is supposed to be like a popular jock kind of guy. But he’s, he’s a short King. Yeah. So, uh, you know, a Bustan stereotype stereotypes, I guess. And he’s also the son of the sheriff. And the sheriff has a dark past because his dad basically wasted his whole life hunting for aliens. And he was known as kind of the town Kook and nobody respected him. And he the sheriff has always been very, like, resentful of this. But now he’s becoming the town Kook. And he’s hunting after aliens. So what a twisted web.

Tessa 11:21
I would like to say that also I did take a little bit of umbrage that, you know, they are talking about Oh, they’re, you know, government alien hunters. I’m like, as someone who arguably is a government sponsored alien Hunter. You know, I wasn’t, I don’t know how I feel about the portrayal of people in my community.

Charles 11:39
Well, there, you know, there’s the feds. And then there’s like the cool guys, i.e. scientists.

Tessa 11:47
That’s true. That’s true. And it’s also worth noting that I am not directly employed by the government, they just occasionally shoot me a grant towards my lab.

Charles 11:55
There you go. So Max just kind of sucks. And it’s very clear, he’s supposed to be like the classic like, distant, mysterious, his dark hair, he broods. He’s introverted. He doesn’t talk to people. But in fact, he just is really annoying. He doesn’t have a lot to offer. And let me tell you right now, if you come on this journey with me, of watching all of Roswell, you are only going to sour on him increasingly, forever. Gotcha. But you’ll really turn around on Kyle, that’s a fun little treat, waiting and future seasons. Because, you know, I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. But this should be pretty obvious to people, I think they wring as much as they can out of the sheriff hunting them down. And then he turns coat and he’s an ally.

Tessa 12:42
Oh, thank God.

Charles 12:43
Yeah. They don’t keep that going for three seasons. But yeah, I would say in general, on a scale of 1-10. One being, you didn’t even try; 10 being great, love it. How would you rate your general feeling in like the establishment of alien lore in Roswell?

Tessa 13:04
I probably put it as a six or a seven, mostly because they have have left themselves so much room to you know, kind of explore and, you know, have reasonable justifications for why the aliens are the way that they are. I did find it a little odd that apparently their saliva has a lot of cells in it, which is not true for humans, but I’m just going to assume that.

Charles 13:26
Also, it’s possible that he took it, and he I wasn’t… I don’t, I wasn’t watching that closely, but you know, sometimes when you’re biting on a pencil, you do kind of rub it on the inside of your cheek.

Tessa 13:38
That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. Yeah.

Charles 13:40
Well, he could have just been gross. Yeah, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. Yeah. It is so funny, though, that like Liz was able to just take his pencil that was effectively a cheek swab and be like, green!

Tessa 13:54
Just stain it put it on a slide. I did like the fact that they showed her staining it.

Charles 13:58
Well, if I do, one thing that I do really appreciate about Roswell is that Liz is genuinely, like a nerd. She’s not just like a pretty girl. And they say that she likes science. And then but they don’t show that ever. She like wants to go to MIT. She wants to head her own lab. She has specific scientific interests,

Tessa 14:20
Even within the first two episodes, you know, she knows how to research. She’s really on top of like, putting dots together and performing experiments.

Charles 14:28
Yeah. Which also just gives even more to like, why are you wasting your time on this drip?

Tessa 14:35
Yeah, yeah.

Charles 14:36
But I can’t say if I were the object of affection of an alien who wasn’t bad looking. And I were a biologist, and also 16. I’d give him a chance.

Tessa 14:52
Yeah, yeah, I can totally understand that.

Charles 14:54
Just for the experience. If nothing else, how many people get to kiss an alien?

Tessa 14:58
Exactly.

Charles 14:59
Not many, I bet.

Tessa 15:00
I have to say certainly I haven’t so far and it’s been a bit a bit of a letdown in my career.

Charles 15:04
I know. I know. Well, we’ll get you there. Consensually.

Tessa 15:08
Of course.

Charles 15:09
So okay, so aliens, Max sucks. Michael is very closed off emotionally. Well, I guess let’s round out the trio of aliens. How does Isabel strike you?

Tessa 15:17
Yeah, they are like really going strong, at least in the first two episodes, with making her the cool girl who probably thinks she’s better than you on some level. I’m sure, given how TV works, at some point, she’ll open up and express more vulnerability. She’s also ironically, probably the most aggressive of the three, at least in terms of like, you know, as soon as she even slightly suspects that their covers been blown. She wants out. They really like, built her up as being you know, the aggressive, tough girl, Cool Girl female character, I think. But I’m pretty sure she won’t stay that way. Again, just because of how TV works.

Charles 15:53
Yeah, you’re not wrong. And she does also get a love interest. And you can probably guess exactly who it is. Because there were only six main characters. Yep. But that actually turns out to be a pretty nice relationships such as it is, although I don’t want to get too deep into spoilers because I want you to experience a real, but let’s just say some sad stuff happens. At some point. Gosh, I love aliens. Well, here’s another thing. If you were in Liz’z position, how do you think you would process that information?

Tessa 16:31
Honestly, I would be probably less frightened and more just intensely curious. I want to know everything I can about this. I’ll keep it secret, because you know, I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. But you know, tell me everything you can? Because no one when the next opportunity, you’re gonna have to talk about someone from presumably a completely different lineage of life.

Charles 16:57
Well, I I will say how much of a burden… like do you think you would be satisfied with the pieces of evidence that Liz is presented with? Because from where I’m standing, the idea that one of my classmates, who is a very physically mature closed off boy who I think is cute, clearly is an alien. from real outerspace, and not just any old alien, but specifically one of the aliens from the crash that fuels my town’s entire tourism industry. I think I would, I will find that a hard pill to swallow.

Tessa 17:39
Yeah. And the other thing is like, I got shot, and then I was healed. First off, how do I even know it was him? And I have to admit, I’m also a little puzzled that she doesn’t maybe they do this later that she doesn’t, like, demonstrate more signs of trauma from you know, getting shot, and also possibly dying.

Charles 17:59
I, well, I’ll say that we see the effects, in a way eventually. But the getting shot truly is just a conceit, so that they can have a show, right? I figured yet, because I would find it cuz I’ve looked at cells on slides, obviously, because I’ve had eight years of post secondary biology, education and three years of biology in high school, I’ve looked at a couple of cells. And I don’t know that I am so confident in my own microbiological abilities that I could look at one slide and decide, yeah, this guy is an alien.

Tessa 18:40
Yeah, yeah. I mean, there would have to be something really weird about them. And even then, because otherwise, it’d be like, Huh, that’s weird. I, he must have like, gotten a different type of cell on his pencil or whatever. Because like, I don’t have the shape and configuration of every cell in the body memorized. I certainly didn’t at 16.

Charles 18:59
Certainly not. Well, and that’s also just like these because this is what’s interesting to me, like taking this real seriously, like today, if we found somebody who cells were weird. And just like, cuz this is because this is because this is the thing, right, is that most biological imaging is ultimately pretty fuzzy, and kind of inconclusive, and you have to know what you’re looking for. Right? And even like, astronomical imaging, right? We’ve talked to a lot of people who are basically looking to find patterns in spots of light, right? That could be anything and it isn’t, but it, you know, to an untrained or sub trained eye, it looks like nothing, right?

Tessa 19:47
Exactly.

Charles 19:48
So there’s that and then also just like, I find it so wild to think about of just like or like finding some finding an organism that had dinner In a, that was recognizably DNA, but sequences that didn’t match anything. But I have sequenced organisms, which had like a 0% match with any other sequence in the database, not because it was alien, but because we haven’t exhaustively sequenced everything in the world. Right? So the the sort of the, the barrier of evidence, I think, is always very interesting to me to think about, like, it’s such a wild thing to think that you found an alien or alien life that like, I almost can’t imagine ever fully trusting what I was seeing.

Tessa 20:45
Yeah, if I happened on that kind of evidence, like, even when, you know, he demonstrates that he can play around with molecular structure. I’m like, you know, what, does that necessarily mean? You’re an alien, though. And for that matter, something that wasn’t entirely clear to me is how do they How do they know that there are aliens? I mean, yes, they are emerged out of these pods in 1989, and wandered into the desert, but they don’t seem to have any memory of who or what they were beforehand. So how would they make the jump that they were also aliens?

Charles 21:17
That’s what the, that’s what they should have done in the reboot, slash revival. I can’t remember where we’re drawing the distinction between them…

Tessa 21:26
Reimagining.

Charles 21:28
In the reimagining, that’s what they should have done. Not that they’re actually aliens. But there’s some weird scientists doing genetic engineering, who planted human children that he engineered in pods. And then they thought they were alien.

Tessa 21:43
Right, exactly.

Charles 21:44
That’s a show I’d watch. They are aliens, we do learn. But, you know.

Tessa 21:49
I mean, I figured.

Charles 21:50
But you make a compelling point.

Tessa 21:51
Because like, yeah, you know, they talk about Oh, the crash. I’m like, how would you know anything about the crash? You literally said you weren’t born yet. None of your elders have shown up to tell you about it. Cuz they talk about how they’re the only three people that they know of that aren’t that are aliens.

Charles 22:07
Yeah, I imagine it may be kind of like, an intuitive self understanding. That way that like pre mature individuals still recognize themselves as a member of their species.

Tessa 22:20
Oh, that’s true. That’s true.

Charles 22:21
Yeah. Deep, like gut knowledge. Although, who knows? I don’t think they specifically address that, because it’s the kind of question that, with all over my heart, only a real nerd would ask.

Tessa 22:36
Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.

Charles 22:39
I love this show. I think it’s the best. Here’s my other question is, we’ve established that you would like for there to be aliens, right? Wouldn’t that be such a surprise if you were in astrobiology? But you were also like, I hope I don’t find anything. I’m in this field to make sure we don’t have anybody else out there. No way, the ultimate xenophobia, but yeah, how disappointed would you be If we met aliens? And we just knew that they were aliens, like, beyond reasonable doubt – aliens. How disappointed would you would would you be if they were just kind of annoying humanoid teenagers?

Tessa 23:21
You know, what I would put up with it? Because it’s not really that I’m interested in it’s their cells and biochemistry? Yeah. So as long as they’re willing to donate like plasma or the equivalent thereof, you know, even on a one time basis, they you know, I don’t have to talk to them when they’re not in the lab, which would be most of the time so I think I know what up with it.

Charles 23:39
Although I think this is does actually become like a storyline of like, resistance to because is about References This of like, why they have to keep themselves hidden? Because if they made themselves known as extraterrestrials, then they would just become study subjects. Yeah. So I think you know, bodily autonomy first.

Tessa 24:01
Well, I mean, presumably, it would be consensual. Yeah, you know, but beyond that, like, I would be willing to put up with however annoying they are, as long as I you know, they were willing to provide interesting data about themselves as biological organisms.

Charles 24:15
Yeah, although I would think I mean, it’s tough because thinking about it if I were an alien, and I had come to earth, and I didn’t know about my own people, and I didn’t know where I came from, specifically. And I felt alien, literally alien. And all the time, I might be a little bit annoyed. If somebody just wanted to take myself and stuff true. On the other hand, if I’m me, and I have an equal interest, because this is what I imagine if I were one of them. I would have gotten deep into biology, to be able to understand myself, in contrast to the life that everybody else knows about.

Tessa 24:54
Right? And I mean, honestly, that’s kind of like the thing that the way I would approach it would be Hey, let me do this because I hopefully it’ll help us narrow down where you might have come from and you know, have a better understanding of who you are, because it’s really the only thing we have to work with.

Charles 25:10
Well, that’s an interesting proposition of, do you think it is realistic? Like, is this something that people talk about if we had a sample of extraterrestrial life, but decontextualize, not we went and we sampled it from a planet, but we found something determined that it was non terrestrial in origin, are there actually any clues in biology that would lead you back to a source?

Tessa 25:40
We could at least narrow it down, potentially, if it’s very similar to ours, we can assume it came from a planet with a very similar environment, you know, oxygen atmosphere, fairly temperate climate, we could exclude like a whole bunch of planets that we have detected. So that would really help narrow it down. You know, if they had more exotic biochemistry, we can say, Oh, you know, you must have come from a much colder planet with, you know, saying atmosphere rich in hydrogen. So we could look for planets that have those sorts of surface conditions. So that would help if we can actually narrow it down to like a group of planets, looking at the stoichiometric ratios of you know, the elements in a given cell could also help narrow it down.

Charles 26:20
You know, I love talking stoichiometric ratio.

Tessa 26:22
Oh, yeah, basically, you know, the amount of, say, nitrogen in ratio to the amount of carbon, basically, how many different types of elements Do you have it in your body proportional to each other. For example, algae has a very famous ratio, it’s called the Redfield ratio. It’s, each cell boundary for every 106 atoms of carbon has 16 atoms of nitrogen and one phosphorus. The interesting thing about that is if you look at the stoichiometric ratio of most organisms on this planet, a lot of it is pretty close, not identical, but fairly close to what you see in seawater. And that would probably be pretty unique to this planet, just because of, you know, the various, numerous possibilities that could, and, you know, chance events that could occur in planetary formation, I don’t think you’re going to end up with a lot of planets that have absolutely identical elemental ratios and their seawater, for example. So that could also help narrow it down a little, I think.

Charles 27:24
Well, that’s fantastic. You said that you could explain like the actual facts of Roswell.

Tessa 27:34
This is one of my favorite stories, and I think it only got fully declassified, you know, within the last 20 years or so. So what crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, was not a weather balloon, not much is true. However, it wasn’t a UFO either, at least, we’re pretty sure it wasn’t what had been going on in that part of the world in that time period, was that the US had launched an operation called Project mogul that was trying to develop very, very high altitude balloon lifted platforms for detecting, or at least trying to detect the very, very low frequency sounds caused by Soviet nuclear testing. And it has to be very, very high up in the atmosphere to do to like how the acoustics and atmospheric density and temperature work that, you know, that would be the best place to try to detect these from around the world. because keep in mind, this is 1947. We don’t have satellites, we just can’t, you know, have eyes over Russia and see if they’re setting a new cough. And we wanted to know, like, how far along was their nuclear program? What sort of testing were they doing, and you could send planes over but a, they got really annoyed about that with good reason. And B, it was pretty obvious you were doing it. So this was hoped that this would be a way to text them from the other side of the planet while you’re still in the US and US airspace.

Now, for obvious reasons. This involved a lot of at the time, very technically advanced equipment. And it was also deeply classified because we didn’t want the Russians know, we were trying to do it, partially because we wanted, we, you know, didn’t want them to figure out a way to somehow defeat this system. But also, we didn’t want them to know what we were doing, you know, and reverse engineer the technology. But anyway, so these things were strung up on something that was notionally similar to a weather balloon, but much, much larger was usually a cluster of balloons. And it was this very sophisticated platform of a lot of very sensitive audio detectors. Again, you know, this is 1947 it’s mostly, you know, vacuum tubes, but it’s still very sophisticated but the time period and they were launched out of the Southwest because you know, the weather at that time of year was pretty clear and you’re not going to get them your balloon system that you’ve spent a lot of time and money developing knocked down by storms.

One of them still crash in Roswell anyway and obviously the farmers I found it was like, What the heck is this because again, this is very advanced technology, you know, I think, the balloon from mylar, which was not a common material at the time. And so he told the military, and it was very obvious that it wasn’t a weather balloon, because even back then people see weather balloons. And you know, their payloads are usually very small, relatively speaking, this thing was big and bulky. And the government first got in and freaked out. and was like, Oh, no, you know, obviously, we can’t let the Soviets know about this. So we’re just gonna say it was a weather balloon. everybody’s like, duh, this is obviously not a weather balloon. What if it’s a UFO? And the government was like, yeah, sure, let’s go with that. It was a UFO. It was essentially, you know, accidental sort of counter espionage campaign to sort of Distort and dissemble what actually happened there that, you know, they would rather the Soviets think that a UFO crashed, and that we have pieces of it, then have them actually put two and two together and be like, Oh, they were trying to detect our nuclear tests. So that’s actually what happened and why the government was so hush hush about it, and why they’ve been so willing to, like, let people just believe Oh, it was a UFO.

Charles 31:12
I mean, technically, anything can be a UFO if you don’t know what it is.

Tessa 31:16
But yeah, that’s the story of what actually happened at Roswell.

Charles 31:21
I mean, it’s a little bit underwhelming, but anything is underwhelming if the other option is aliens.

Tessa 31:28
Yes, this is true.

Charles 31:29
I think if we did encounter aliens, I would freak out. And I would also be very excited.

Tessa 31:36
Yeah, I mean, I think those are appropriate responses.

Charles 31:39
I would also freak out, I think more than anything, and this kind of reflects poorly on me as a person, but I’m owning it. I’ve been in therapy for a decade, I know my weaknesses, I think I would have a lot of like, research focused FOMO of like, Ah, I’m just over here working on taxonomy. And there are aliens!

Tessa 32:03
Well, with aliens we have would open up a whole new world of taxonomy.

Charles 32:08
I mean, unfortunately, I’ve thought about this a lot. But ultimately, my answer to the question of how to integrate extraterrestrial life, into our taxonomic system, is that they would just be new domains.

Tessa 32:26
Yeah. On the other hand, it would give you an amazing out group for doing any sort of phylogeny experiments.

Charles 32:32
You’re not wrong. You’re not wrong. I would love because it is a very, like, not quite Ship of Theseus, but kind of collection of morphological traits of Theseus of like, what if we found something that based on diagnostic criteria, would just exactly be an insect? But of course, it can’t be an insect, if it’s from Mars, right? Because it has no shared evolutionary history.

Tessa 33:04
That’s actually like a really interesting thought experiment, because also, you know, with convergent evolution being what it is, you know, it’s not out of the question that you get something that would look very similar, despite having absolutely no shared ancestry whatsoever.

Charles 33:17
Yeah. And then it’s a very, like, emotional quandary. Because if what I love is insects, but we have an extra terrestrial organism that could on first sight, being insect, but it technically cannot be one. Because of no shared evolutionary history. Do I also love this alien? As much as I love insects? Or is it a new kind of love? This is what keeps me up at night, when I’m not thinking about more immediate disasters that are keeping me up at night.

Tessa 33:54
Fair enough.

Charles 33:55
There’s a lot of room in my brain to be worried about a whole spectrum of problems.

Actually, I started, I added at some point, a new question to our list of questions that I don’t think we’ve gotten your answer to on record. So that’s how we’re going to close out this episode. I’ve started adding, if there were a human colony on the moon, or Mars, or like a permanent residential space, in orbit, which I know is kind of the International Space Station, but you got to be an astronaut. It’s not a real like living environment. Right, right. I’m talking like generation ship type environment. Would you want to join?

Tessa 34:45
Yes, but I would probably feel more comfortable with I have the option of going home if I decided to.

Charles 34:51
Can’t go home, this is not that far future.

Tessa 34:55
I would. I would probably say yes, but it would probably be like a run retirement thing. You know, once I feel like I’ve done all the stuff I can or want to on Earth, you know, that’s when it would be time to move on.

Charles 35:09
Yeah, I absolutely would not do it. I don’t want to live in space. There was something I was talking to my best friend Tanya, shout out Tanya, about one ridiculous thing that E— M— said or whatever. Or just like the general billionaire obsession with forming colonies off of Earth, which is obviously problematic. A, because… come on. B, because if it’s a very fatalistic like, Well, we’ve messed up this one, let’s move on. And it’s like…

Tessa 35:38
Exactly. It’s not a great way to approach it.

Charles 35:42
Yeah. And then it’s also like, do you… Mars is never going to be more hospitable to me than Earth, where I live my Earth life and breathe earth air in my organic body evolved to live on Earth.

Tessa 35:56
Exactly. It’s a very hostile environment.

Charles 35:59
So shout out to Earth got some of my favorite stuff here… insects, cats, poutine, it’s a great place to live.

Tessa 36:08
I will also say regarding like, the whole, like, you know, E— M—, let’s go colonize another planet is that, you know, again, because it’s such a hostile environment, it always kind of surprises me that these are the people who think they will, you know, take to the stars. Because a capitalist economy, which is predicated on just continuous growth, which ours currently is, is a really bad idea on a planet, you know, eventually you run out of resources, you wreck the environment, it is a fantastically terrible bad idea on like, a space habitat that is, you know, orders of magnitude smaller.

Charles 36:42
Well, and it’s also… not to advocate for murder, which I want to be clear, I’m not doing but if you’re a billionaire who has no real practical skills to offer, and who has this mindset of I am fundamentally more important than other people, do you really think you’re going to get six months into a Mars colony where people are feeling the grief of abandoning their home planet, and the stress of a new environment, and all the weird stuff that space inevitably will do to your body and mind. And they’re not just going to…

Tessa 37:20
Yeah, that’s that’s actually a really good point. You know, you’re going to be first out the airlock if it ever comes down to it.

Charles 37:25
They’re not going to keep somebody around who’s not going to take their turn cleaning out the toilet.

Tessa 37:32
Exactly. And I you know, I think that’s something also they haven’t really recognized. You know, I am personally in favor, all the way of like human space exploration, but it’s mostly in the context of well exploration, you know, finding out what’s there being scouts, etc.

Charles 37:48
Yeah, well, I mean, to circle back to Becky Chambers, who I’m a big fan of… shout out Becky. Pretty sure she’s gay, she has a wife so great job.

Tessa 37:57
Yep, she’s some type of queer.

Charles 37:59
Yeah, I really like the sort of world building of To Be Taught If Fortunate. And the idea of we’re sending people out into space, only to explore and to enrich our knowledge, but not to build colonies.

Well, if people want to find me online, I am Twitter @cockroacharles.

Tessa 38:26
I am online on Twitter @spacermase, and also I have a website tessafisher.com

Charles 38:35
You can find the podcast on twitter @ASABpod or at our website asabpodcast.com, where we post transcripts and show notes for every episode. And if you like the podcast, please tell your friends about it. Or other people who are looking for podcasts, as that’s supposedly the number one way that podcasts grow.

Tessa 38:53
And until next time, keep on science-ing.

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