In 1958, 'Space People' Looked Almost Exactly Like Humans

More

Aliens: They know about handshakes, and everything!

[optional image description]

In October 1957, the Russian satellite Sputnik became the first man-made object ever to be sent beyond earth's atmosphere. The launch -- the first time we knew for sure that we could propel pieces of ourselves out into space -- brought a new flurry of questions, one of them being the old standby: Is there life beyond us out there in the universe?

In November 1957, This Week Magazine offered a (semi-)scientific analysis of that question. Its conclusion: yeah, probably. Its further conclusion: Whatever life might be out there ... probably looks a lot like us humans. In a summary of that article, in February 1958, Science Digest declared that "we can be almost certain that our visitors from space will not have three eyes, webbed feet, or television antennae growing out of their foreheads." Because "instead, scientists theorize, they will probably bear a strong resemblance to the man next door."

Among other things, scientists theorize, "the man from Planet X" most likely: breathes air; eats both plants and meat; is approximately the same size as a human, weighing "at least 40 pounds, and probably more"; has a skull or a skull-like structure; has two eyes and two ears, both of them located near the brain; walks upright; and has -- scare quotes theirs -- "hands" and "feet." (Why not tentacles, sea creature-style? "Because tentacles can pull, but cannot push effectively.")

So. Instead of the acid-spewing aliens of Prometheus or the tentacletastic creatures of Independence Day, the extraterrestrials of 1958 were humanoid enough to share our basic biology -- and, judging from the illustration above, to have developed the handshake as their default gesture of greeting. What a lucky coincidence! How lovely to think of a universe populated not by mysterious Others, but by white-collared, courteous cosmomates! How nice to assume that "the kind of creature that could pay us a visit would have to be essentially like ourselves."

Via @paleofuture

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgment, and what it means to love their bodies


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In