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On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on Earth's moon for the first time in human history. Four days later, they — along with Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins — were locked up on an American battleship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Of course, as NASA quickly confirmed, there were no tiny aliens lurking in the astronauts' armpits or in the 50 pounds (22 kilograms) of lunar rocks and soil they had collected. But despite this absence of literal extraterrestrial life, the Apollo 11 astronauts still may have succeeded in bringing aliens back to Earth in another way that can still be felt 50 years later.
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Pres. Richard Nixon welcomes the Apollo 11 astronauts back to Earth after their historic voyage to the moon. The astronauts were confined within one of NASA's Mobile Quarantine Facilities for 21 days to ensure they would not contaminate Earth with any potential lunar bacteria after their short lunar sojourn.
"Today, about 30 percent of the public thinks the Earth is being visited by aliens in saucers, despite the evidence of that being very poor," Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute — a nonprofit research center focused on the search for alien life in the universe — told Live Science. "I think the moon landing had something to do with that."
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Shostak has been searching for signs of intelligent life in the universe for most of his life (and, fittingly, shares a birthday with the Apollo 11 landing). Live Science recently spoke with him to find out more about how the moon landing changed the scientific community's pursuit of aliens and the world's perception of them. Highlights of our conversation (lightly edited for clarity) appear below.
LS: What did the moon landing teach humans about extraterrestrial life?
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Seth Shostak: Not too...
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