The Search for Speck

Aliens.

That was among the recurring themes during my three days as a member of the press at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. And of course it would be – that’s every space nerd’s dream: to find alien life. Just look at War of the Worlds, Star Trek, Star Wars, Andromeda, Stargate, and a hundred other sci-fi icons; popular culture has been fixated on discovering alien life for more than a hundred years. And what’s better? NASA says they’ll find life outside of Earth within the next 10 years.

NASA’s search for alien life isn’t what you would expect, however. If we’re completely honest, they’re cheating a little bit. When you and I hear “we’ll find alien life,” we think of little green men. NASA, on the other hand, simply means some trace of organic material outside of Earth. It doesn’t even have to be very big or complex – a simple microbe would do the trick for them.

This got me thinking. I mean, really thinking.

If, during a science experiment on a random asteroid deep in space, NASA found a speck of organic goo, it would change the world. Scientists would praise this incredible discovery and begin deriving new theories and explanations for the origins of human life on Earth. My grandchildren and great grandchildren would read in school about how we found life beyond Earth in that glorious speck of alien goo. It would be heralded as the greatest human accomplishment to date: discovering alien life.

And yet, we currently look inside the womb with 4D sonograms to see the developing human child stirring and kicking, and dismiss her as merely a clump of cells. The rhythmic sound of a beating heart, the complex genetic code, the intricate physiological structure, regarded as a parasite. Undeniably a human person, yet discarded like yesterday’s garbage. 

It doesn’t make sense to me that the most technologically advanced species on the planet, which heralds itself for its vast knowledge and wisdom, can look to the stars for mere traces of alien life while it denies the existence of human life right under our noses.

It then occurred to me that, perhaps, the preborn human is ignored in favor of the alien goo speck because we are merely ignorant of the developing child. I recalled a conversation with a young lady a few weeks ago in which she referred to a child at 8 weeks as a “group of cells” and then was surprised to see an actual picture of a child at 8 weeks – fingers, toes, and all.

Perhaps it would serve our species better to explore human life before alien life. After all, what good is it to humanity to seek out alien life while the global fertility rate is dropping below the replacement rate and threatening international economic growth.

Maybe if we knew that from the very moment of fertilization the tiny human embryo contains every strand of DNA to determine her hair color, eye color, and even her fingerprints, we might regard that clump of cells more appropriately. Or if we knew that the baby’s heart is already beating at 18 days in the womb, that the brain and all major organs are developed by 10 weeks, and that she is already fully formed by 12 weeks, we would spend more time in horror that nearly 90% of abortions take place by this time.

There’s a discrepancy in our culture’s value system when it comes to human life in the womb. When a fetus is wanted, it’s a baby. When it’s inconvenient, it’s a clump of cells. When we detect a strand of extraterrestrial goo, it’s alien life. When we see an ultrasound, it’s a product of conception. As I asked one of my fellow NASA correspondents, “Think about it – when was the last time you heard of someone having a fetus shower?” 

If you’ve known me for more than 5 minutes, you know I’m an explorer at heart. I gave up four days with my family to visit NASA for a reason – I think that humans are pioneers who deserve to take dominion over the stars. But if we were to conquer every corner of the solar system yet deny the personhood to our most vulnerable members of our species, we’ll merely become space exploring barbarians.

In our search for speck, let us remember that the most monumental life that could be discovered is the precious child sheltered in her mother’s womb awaiting her turn to look to the stars with wonder.

Joshua Edmonds is the Director of Education & Technology for Georgia Right to Life, an instructor for the Pillars of Personhood training seminar, and a published clinical/social psychology researcher.