Winston Churchill Ponders Extraterrestrial Life In Newly Discovered Essay Astrophysicist Mario Livio discusses a recently unearthed essay written by Winston Churchill in 1939. Churchill wrote about the possibility of space travel and life on other planets.
NPR logo

Winston Churchill Ponders Extraterrestrial Life In Newly Discovered Essay

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515728580/515728581" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Winston Churchill Ponders Extraterrestrial Life In Newly Discovered Essay

Winston Churchill Ponders Extraterrestrial Life In Newly Discovered Essay

Winston Churchill Ponders Extraterrestrial Life In Newly Discovered Essay

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515728580/515728581" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Astrophysicist Mario Livio discusses a recently unearthed essay written by Winston Churchill in 1939. Churchill wrote about the possibility of space travel and life on other planets.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When you think of Winston Churchill, you might conjure up those speeches during World War II, like this one that he gave to Congress shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WINSTON CHURCHILL: Now we are the masters of our fate. As long as we have faith in our cause and an unconquerable willpower, salvation will not be denied us.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That voice - people know so many Churchill lines by heart.

MARTIN: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

INSKEEP: Never was so much owed by so many to so few.

MARTIN: But now - not until now, rather, did many people know of an essay Churchill wrote during the war. It was titled "Are We Alone In The Universe?" It was a scientific exposition on astrophysics and what it would take to sustain life on distant planets.

INSKEEP: The essay was recently rediscovered in the archives of the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Mo. And astrophysicist Mario Livio wrote about it in the journal Nature.

MARIO LIVIO: After all, the question - are we alone in the universe? - has nothing to do with politics, has nothing to do with the war effort. So the fact that this statesperson was interested in the topic was very, very surprising to me.

INSKEEP: And Livio says Churchill had a brilliant scientific mind.

LIVIO: He moves point by point. It's first identifying life, then saying what's necessary for life, then going on to say, OK, so liquid water - under what conditions do you get liquid water? He looks at the solar system. He looks at extrasolar planets. This is fantastic.

MARTIN: Churchill wrote that it was entirely possible that the universe contained, quote, "living, thinking creatures" that could surpass us in intelligence.

INSKEEP: Might not have been too hard to believe in the middle of World War II, actually. And, in any case, it must have been a comforting conclusion.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEV'S "HIRAKU")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.