Cassini and the Prime Directive.

Homepage Forums Science Cassini and the Prime Directive.

This topic contains 6 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Davis 6 years, 9 months ago.

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
  • Author
  • #5163


    Any star trek fans will be Familiar with the Prime Directive. The captains of all five series struggled with it multiple times: non interference. To not interfere with the natural development of sentient beings, especially when they are technologically less advanced and ignorant about their world, space and less knowledgeable. This includes captains facing very difficult problems like not offering primitive beings assistance or even not intervening in large planetary catastrophes.

    NASA used a similar principle when it decided to crash its satellite Cassini into the atmosphere of Saturn. Leaving the satellite to keep flying around at many kilometers per second left open the possibility of it crashing on one of Saturn’s many moons, more particularly the handful of its many moons which is large almost certainly have notable layers of water under the surface crust. It is not a stretch to speculate that there may be some form of life (even if it is very primitive) or the potential for life forming there.

    Saturn and its rings with one of its four major moons.NASA was worried that microbes on the Cassini flyer (from Earth and its long voyage in space) might transfer from the satellite onto the surface of a  moon like Enceladus, introducing an element that might interfere with the natural development of life on the moon. The move is not completely selfless. If we ever want to study life outside of Earth then we need to find uncontaminated samples. If Enceladus was contaminated by the microbes on Cassini, we might lose our chance to fully analyse another form of life…which has much value both for exploration, knowledge and possible scientific or medical applications. The odds of there being life there and the odds of it perhaps crashing on one of these moons is high enough that NASA made the move that was driven to some extent by a principle quite similar to Star Trek’s prime directive.

    On Earth, on an Island near India, a tribal group have been beyond human contact. They are fiercely protective of their land, have killed one and maimed many more who attempted to visit (both European colonialists and modern Indians). They are technologically primitive and almost nothing is known about them beyond very short and violent encounters and imagery taken from a distance. They have, however, accepted a few baskets of food and have used refuse that washes up on their shores to fashion tools and wearables. This is an example of cultural contamination. They clearly don’t want to be contacted. Their lives as they know it would irrevocably change, as we have seen happen throughout the Americas with native cultures destroyed with European contact and the upheaval brought to the Islands of the South Pacific. Yet India insists on trying to contact them and integrate them (at a very high risk to themselves). Their motives aren’t sinister, but some are questioning the policy. Even some European anthropologists suggest contact should be tried again.

    Should more attempts be made?

    Was NASA being silly in crashing the satellite into Saturn instead of risking it hitting a moon?

    Is the Prime Directive relevant to today?

    Would it be a wise to use this rulee when we start extra solar system space travel?

    • This topic was modified 6 years, 9 months ago by  Davis.


    It didn’t cost much to play it safe, even if life on cold, sunless planets is (imo) highly unlikely. Heat, light, and weathered land masses pouring and mixing myriad dissolved elements, minerals, salts, heat, etc. likely sped up the natural recombinations of substances necessary for complexity and its replication.

    What if Mohammad’s visions in the cave were projected from UFOs? Or by Q?



    I think the prime directive applied to other races or entities, not humans in a different culture.  On the tribe front, that’s a whole separate debate. That is humans making decisions over other humans.  Their way of life is going to have to catch up some day – it would be wrong to try to trap them like flies in amber.



    We are unique in the animal world in that we pretty much destroy everything.



    sunless planets is (imo) highly unlikely

    Organic material can arrive via comets/meteors or some other way. Microbes are known to survive in frozen near vacuum space for a very long time. But even then, it’s still concievable that life forms in a dark sea under a big layer of ice.  Stable water (doesnt boil and doesnt freeze for too long), very basic elements and some kind of “spark” is likely all that is needed. Energy and warmth can come from thermal vents (life thrives at the bottom of the Earth’s oceans with bacteria and other creatures living well off the hot vents and getting around via bioluminescence).  I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on it but biologists, astronomers and NASA/Euro-Agency are willing to dedicate enormous time, money, resources, people to finding out the answer.



    Their way of life is going to have to catch up some day – it would be wrong to try to trap them like flies in amber.

    In the case of the people on the Island, it is beyond clear that these people do NOT want to be contacted, integrated, changed, modernised, or have anything at all to do with us. If non-interference has any value….I would imagine this is a clear case where the rule stands. Those that are constantly harassing them and bullying them despite their wish to be left alone…says something about their view on autonomy and individual dignity and rights to choose…as well as a paternalistic attitude and likely some drive to make all of India’s territory streamlined and consistent to some degree (regardless of what local or autonomous communities want).

    As for arguing that non-interference between human cultures is different from non-interference amongst inter-planetary races…(as though they aren’t the same rule or the same problem)…I can see the argument from one side, but on the other hand…introducing yourself and radically changing a people overnight anywhere (especially if they are not ready) can be disastrous. As has been the case so many times here on Earth it becomes gruelling and painful to count them. Just because we are far more similar biologically and next door neighbours doesn’t somehow diminish the concept of non-interference, at least as long as that concept means anything. When Star Trek made their first episode with the Prime Directive, it was clear that they were referencing the disastrous effect colonialism had on native cultures. It was happening up until 30 years ago in canada when indiginous people were forced into residential schools (even against their will). It was a catastrophy and along with it came incredible abuse (and abuse always follows whether it is intended or not, by some or even by most of those who participate) among the people who help realise the changes.

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 9 months ago by  Davis.


    We are unique in the animal world in that we pretty much destroy everything.


Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.