Republicans in the lower chamber of the U.S. Congress introduced a bill today that would require NASA to include a Christian missionary on any future manned trips to planets outside our solar system, with the goal of "shining the light of Jesus Christ across the cosmos."
Astronomers have thus far identified 763 such extra-solar planets and estimate that there may be as many as 100 billion exoplanets in our galaxy alone. Although scientists do not currently have the ability to look for signs of life on these far off worlds, some number of these exoplanets are believed to lie within the habitable zone of their stars and could thus be suitable candidates for life.
With so many potential Earth-like planets in the Milky Way many researchers are quite confident that extraterrestrial life exists in some form in the galaxy. Some also believe that intelligent life could exist on at least some worlds.
It is the possibility of sentient beings that has excited the so-called "Christan Universe" movement, which seeks to extend the Christian faith to all forms of intelligent life. A group called Coalition for a Christan Universe (CCU) - believed to be backed by U.S. evangelical billionaire Foster Friess - has spearhead lobbying efforts for the cause and is behind the current legislation.
"We now know life on other planets is much more likely than we thought just a few years ago, "says Nathaniel Hamworth, a Washington D.C. based spokseperson for the CCU, "Its no longer science fiction. There are other worlds out there, and we aim to make them Christian worlds just as Cortez made the Americas a Christian hemisphere."
"If god decides to destroy the Earth with an asteroid, there will be no more Christians left in the universe to worship His Glory."
Unlike in science fiction, however, traveling to other worlds would be neither quick nor easy. With the fastest technology currently conceivable it would take a spacecraft carrying humans at least 60 - 70 years to reach Alpha Centauri - the nearest star system with the potential of orbiting exoplanets. Reaching systems further out would take hundreds or even thousands of years. Such timespans would require any future mission to be multi-generational in nature and require a ship to carry a diverse compliment of plants and animals in order to sustain the human voyagers.
The similarities of an exoplanet "generation ship" mission to the biblical story of Noah's Ark has not escaped those in the Christian Universe movement. A leading figure in the cause sees the discovery of exoplanets and the construction of a generation ship as a part of God's plan to ensure the survival of his children:
"If god decides to destroy the Earth with an asteroid, there will be no more Christians left in the universe to worship His Glory. Colonizing other planets and converting their native populations is a vital long term survival strategy for the Christian faith"
Per christus ad aspera?
Although most astronomers accept the idea that it would be wise to colonize other worlds, most exoplanet experts are baffled by the mandate to Christianize life on other planets. One leading exoplanet researcher told The Daily Currant:
"This law is ridiculous. It will likely be hundreds of years - if ever - before we start to send manned missions to these planets. And even if we get there and if we find the planets inhabited by intelligent beings, there is no guarantee that we will be able to communicate with them at all. And even if we could communicate there is no reason to believe that these creatures would have any interest in our religions whatsoever - much less converting to them."
However, Representative Michelle Bachman of Minnesota - a key co-sponsor of the bill - rejected such concerns in a speech on the House floor:
"God created life, no matter where in the universe it is found. And He commanded all his creatures to honor and obey Him. It doesn't matter if life is carbon based, silicon based or operates on some sort of 'crystalline entity' principle we don't fully understand yet. God loves all the creatures of His universe and His word is law. And we as Christians have a responsibility to bring the word of the Lord to any intelligent lifeforms so that they can feel the love of Jesus into their hearts and know His peace."
The Faith Race
One consequence of the proposed legislation may be an increase in Congressional funding for NASA's efforts to find life on other planets. Support for that endeavor has historically come from the Democratic side of the aisle, but the CCU has been heavily leaning on Republican members to increase NASA's budget in insure that America - and thus Christianity - will reach the pagan exoplanet populations first.
"We don't want the Chinese to get there before us and start preaching atheism or some nonsense. Or god forbid the Indians with all their Voodoo (sic) magic." says Ralph P. Finney president of the CCU.
The bill is scheduled to be voted on later this week and is expected to pass because it is attached to a crucial defense spending package. Its prospects in the Senate are more uncertain, but several senators up for re-election this year have already stated their support.
Video: Find out more about exoplanets and the race to discover them: