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UN names official space 'host'

Writer: | 26 September 2010 |

E.T. -- phone the UN!

If an alien ever lands in your back yard and says, "Take me to your leader," the United Nations is giving you someone to call.

Mazlan Othman, an obscure Malaysian scientist, will be named as the Earth's official alien-spacecraft greeter. She's expected to announce her new role at a conference next week.

While Hollywood and most Americans assume the president of the United States would speak to aliens on behalf of earthlings, the United Nations thinks real extraterrestrials should get a more globalized response.

Othman, head of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, backs that view.

"The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that someday humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials," she said in a recording of a recent speech, reported by the Sunday Times of London.

"When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination."

At the upcoming conference in Britain, Othman is expected to tell delegates that the recent discovery of hundreds of planets around other stars has made the detection of extraterrestrial life more likely than ever before -- and that means the United Nations must be ready to coordinate humanity's response to any "first contact."

Othman is an astrophysicist who got her Ph.D. in New Zealand.

Scientists who work with her say her job is essentially to be the mouthpiece for mankind.

"Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a 'Take me to your leader' person," said professor Richard Crowther, a space law expert with the United Kingdom Space Agency.

Alien arrivals aren't the only cinematic-style issues that Othman's office investigates.

It's also in charge of deciding what to do if a deadly asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth.

The last UN official picked as Earth's official mouthpiece provoked controversy.

In 1977, two Voyager spacecraft went into space with recordings that were meant to be a message from Earth to intelligent life in the galaxy.

The voice on the message, however, belonged to then UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, who was later discovered to have been an enthusiastic member of the Nazi party during World War II.