The Chest-Bursting Science of the Alien Franchise 

  Last updated May 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Topics:  

Do you think Alien is one of the greatest sci fi fanchises of all time? 


When I think about the Alien movie franchise, the first thing that bursts to mind is alien life forms, in all their face-hugging, acid-bleeding, HR Giger glory.


But here’s a cinematic twist – what actually makes Alien one of the greatest science fiction franchises of all time isn’t the aliens (cue dramatic music).


It’s that Alien movies have everything! Along with the titular creatures, they have robots, they have planetary science, they have space travel, they have evil corporations, and they have diverse casts led by strong female leads to fight them. It looks like the latest, Alien: Covenant, is no exception.



So to celebrate another entry into the canon that keeps on killing, let’s take a look at the latest science on the themes that give Alien its cinematic foundation (and some related sci-fi recommendations, because I can’t help myself).


Aliens


When scientists look for life on other planets, they don’t waste their time looking for something that walks and talks. They save themselves a bunch of time and trouble by narrowing their search to the conditions conducive to life, like all-important water. So here in our solar system the most likely candidate is currently doing laps of Jupiter. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we confirm that there is a liquid ocean under the icy surface of its moon Europa, and whether there’s anything alive down there. The search is also being cast further afield (what up, SETI) but the universe is a mighty big place. Lots of scientists tend to think that extra-terrestrial life probably does exist, just very far away in a direction we haven’t even looked yet. As for Alien director Ridley Scott? Let’s just say he’s pretty sure there are advanced life forms out there, but he’s not super pumped about it:


“When you see a big thing in the sky, run for it. Because they are a lot smarter than we are, and if you are stupid enough to challenge them you will be taken out in three seconds.”


If you’re keen to check out an extra-terrestrial movie with a slightly more chilled vibe, try Arrival (which will also let you finish your Blade Runner 2049 homework, since both are directed by Denis Villenevue, and the latter is executive produced by Ridley Scott).


Robots


Robots in many shapes and forms are here and they’re here to stay. But to get to the android company men that populate the Alien franchise, we’ve got a long way to go in terms of artificial intelligence and synthetic humanoids.



But we’re getting there. Current research and development is about teaching machines how to learn, rather than what to know. So far the practical applications are limited to things like chatbots and game playing, but these stepping stones are definitely getting closer and closer together. Then aside from an artificially intelligent brain, sci-fi style androids also need bodies. In the real world, one of the first hurdles to building a synthetic human is just getting it to do what we can do before our first birthday – walk. Bipedalism is far more complex than it feels, so while some researchers are working hard to perfect it, others are placing their bets on different forms of motion. So the future probably looks like more of a mix of different types of robotics than sci-fi, and the Alien universe in particular, tends to suggest.


When it comes getting your fix of artificial intelligence on the silver screen, you cannot go past Ex Machina. Plus it gives you the chance to pretend that Poe Dameron is a reclusive internet mogul and General Hux is his hapless plaything.


Space Travel


Any long distance space mission is going to start with our intrepid explorers strapping in to a spaceship that’s going to keep them alive, get them where they’re going, and not make them go crazy in the process. Hopefully they’ll be as decked out with amenities (and as much gravity) as they are in the movies, but take a look at NASA’s Orion spacecraft to get an idea of what space travel is going to look like in the very near future.


But if we’re really going to travel vast distances, we might have to look at an Alien franchise staple – hypersleep. Imagine climbing into bed and not opening your eyes again until you’re halfway across the galaxy! The latest thinking is actually a little less extreme, suggesting that astronauts would sleep for about a fortnight at a time. Still, that’s a decent nap.


For a potentially realistic look at what space travel (if not its consequences) might look like, you could do a lot worse than the totally underrated Sunshine.


Planetary Colonisation


If we are ever going to become a multi-planet species, we’re going to have to be able to take a stroll on the surface of our new planets without suffocating, burning, or freezing. That’s where terraforming – engineering features like terrain and atmosphere to make them habitable – comes in. It’s fun to picture huge space machines carving out space highways while space colonists plant space forests, but the current thinking is that our efforts will start a lot smaller – at the microbial level in fact. So let’s say we do renovate ourselves at least one Planet B – who gets to live there? Astronauts are already selected with congeniality in mind, and there’s no reason to think this won’t be just as crucial in the future. And current simulation efforts here on Earth, like the HI-SEAS project in Hawaii, are set up to test group dynamics as much as they are technical challenges.


If you want to know what it might look like when we start casting humanity’s net off our globe, check out another Ridley Scott instant classic – The Martian.



Alien: Covenant looks like it builds on the themes of the origin of life and humanity that its precursor Prometheus fumbled its way through. Surprisingly for a science fiction film, Alien: Covenant might ultimately do so from a spiritual angle, but either way it gives us the chance to talk about panspermia. This is basically the idea that life on Earth got started because a little bit of another planet with some life stuck to it got knocked off and flung onto our surface. Whether or not this is even possible is still up for debate, but it’s an incredibly thought-provoking theory.


So that’s the latest on all things Alien. Save for one closing thought: why don’t the protagonists carry some form of base to neutralise the Xenomorphs’ acidic bleeding? Sure, in some of the movies the characters are discovering the creatures for the first time. But as soon as they figure out that one of the creatures’ defence mechanisms is acid, why don’t they just base the hell out of them?! Just run down to the mess and grab some freaking baking soda! That would even be useful to sprinkle on the damage to the ship. And then in the movies where they know they’re about to come up against the creatures, why don’t they prepare ahead of time?! Like, you live in the future; just 3D print a fire extinguisher-style weapon!!!


Maybe I’ve thought about this a little too much …


Images via 20th Century Fox and NASA.


Did you like this blog? Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to get all the latest science. 




About the Author

Casey Harrigan
Casey Harrigan (@caseyharri) is a Contributing Editor for The Body and Culture on Australia’s Science Channel. Her academic background is in science communication, and her professional background is in science and factual television. Don’t get her started talking about sci fi movies, comedy, interesting animal facts, or Beyonce because she will never stop.

Published By

Science and technology is as much a part of our cultural fabric as art, music, theatre and literature. They play a significant role in our daily lives, yet, in a world dependent on science, we often take them for granted. Australia’s Science Channel believes every citizen has a right, and a responsibility, to be informed, and our mission is to create programs to bring that about.


Featured Videos

Placeholder
The Face of a Stranger
Placeholder
Where Does Space Begin?
Placeholder
The Rarest Drug on Earth
Placeholder
Why is blue so rare in nature
Placeholder
Ant Sisters
Placeholder
Jeremy the Lefty Snail and Other Asymmetrical Animals
Placeholder
Tracking Snow
Placeholder
Smart Slime?
Placeholder
Good in the machine
Placeholder
Kessler Syndrome: What happens when satellites collide?
Placeholder
Why This Skateboarding Trick Should Be Impossible
Placeholder
Charles Camarda on becoming an astronaut
Placeholder
Alan Duffy on what it took to get humans to the Moon
Placeholder
Do aliens exist? Brian Cox explains
Placeholder
From Apollo to Pulsars: Parkes still dishing out the discoveries
Placeholder
Brian Cox on black holes
Placeholder
Australia's 60,000 years of space history
Placeholder
In Class With… Jane Goodall
Placeholder
Etienne Rastoin-Laplane - What's fishy about the Galapagos?
Placeholder
Kit Prendergast - Flowers to keep native bees buzzing
Placeholder
Rebecca Wellard - Eavesdropping on killer whales
Placeholder
Hossein Tavassoli - Mending broken hearts
Placeholder
Dilan Seckiner - Forensic gait analysis
Placeholder
Samuel Bladwell - A new spin on electronics
Placeholder
Sathana Dushyanthen - The double-edged cancer sword
Placeholder
Dwan Price - Nuts and Guts
Placeholder
Catriona Nguyen-Robertson - Exercise takes your immune system for a ride
Placeholder
Thimo Ruethers - The deadly danger of crocs on a plate
Placeholder
Amanda Tauber - Slamming the brakes on metastatic cancer
Placeholder
Hayley Teasdale – The ball that prevents falls (FameLab Australia 2019 Runner-up)
Placeholder
In the Shadow of a Black Hole
Placeholder
In Class With... Monica Gagliano
Placeholder
In Class With... Brian Cox
Placeholder
Start your FameLab 2019 journey now
Placeholder
Nural Cokcetin - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Erinn Fagan-Jeffries - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Ronald Yu - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Noushin Nasiri - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Grassroots
Placeholder
What is machine learning?
Placeholder
Mythbusting artificial intelligence with expert Anton van den Hengel
Placeholder
Using machine learning to predict medical outcomes
Placeholder
KCLOC
Placeholder
Nature Calls
Placeholder
Mexican Fishing Bats
Placeholder
Bittersweet
Placeholder
Timelapse
Placeholder
Invisible Blanket
Placeholder
Look
Placeholder
The Anomalies: Venom Race
Placeholder
Science Meets Making
Placeholder
Spiral
Placeholder
Looking Out There
Placeholder
Protectors of the Penguins
Placeholder
Astroturf
Placeholder
Virtual Humans
Placeholder
Rancheros del Jaguar
Placeholder
Searching For Dark Matter
Placeholder
Finding prehistoric mega-shark fossils on Victoria's coast
Placeholder
The Grandfather of computers
Placeholder
James Cameron talks science
Placeholder
In Class With.....David Suzuki - The Environment
Placeholder
In Class With.....David Suzuki - Career
Placeholder
Sustainable water use with Doug Green
Placeholder
Why is Indigenous science important?
Placeholder
Vanessa Pirotta - Using drones to collect whale snot (FameLab Australia 2018 Winner)
Placeholder
Toby Hendy - Poking Plants (FameLab Australia 2018 Runner-Up)
Placeholder
Muthu Vignesh Vellayappan - Groovy Patches (FameLab Australia 2018 Audience Choice)
Placeholder
Taryn Laubenstein - The Tail of Two Fishes
Placeholder
Richard Charlesworth - Coeliac disease diagnosis can be a pain in the posterior
Placeholder
Pegah Maasoumi - Solar Windows
Placeholder
James Wong - Breathing while you hop: How do kangaroos do it?
Placeholder
Ben McAllister - The ORGAN Experiment: Shining a light on dark matter
Placeholder
Mortaza Rezae - Empowering beautiful minds
Placeholder
Zane Stromberga - Can allergy drugs beat bladder disease?
Placeholder
Working In.....Art - Astrophotography
Placeholder
What's the best way to move - springs or muscles?
Placeholder
FameLab Australia Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Saving lives with platypus milk
Placeholder
Australian astronomers witness death throes of a cocooned star
Placeholder
How Australia's politicians see our future in space
Placeholder
Keeping satellites in the loop
Placeholder
Tim Flannery talks about COP
Placeholder
Tim Jarvis & Tim Flannery talk Climate Change
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - robo baby, university rankings, and cancer on circadian rhythms
Placeholder
From chocolate factory to surgery - the milliDelta robot
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science: video games, low tech transition windows and a new CRISPR technique
Placeholder
Science lessons useful in Art Restoration career
Placeholder
Are drones the future of racing?
Placeholder
The future of esports according to the experts
Placeholder
Seeing is believing with artist Eugenie Lee
Placeholder
The human impact of Art Science collaboration
Placeholder
Follow your Interests in Robotics
Placeholder
Zoz on 3D Printing
Placeholder
Flavia Tata Nardini on women in engineering
Placeholder
Flavia Tata Nardini on the future of the internet
Placeholder
Explore the ocean floor and Antarctic biodiversity
Placeholder
Follow your interests in Medical Research
Placeholder
Artists on Science
Placeholder
What is Space Archaeology?
Placeholder
Follow your Interests
Placeholder
Scientists on Art
Placeholder
3D Printing in Medical Research
Placeholder
Ethical Issues
Placeholder
Problem Solving - Robotics at Dermatec
Placeholder
Problem Solving with CSI
Placeholder
Tamarah King - Earthquake Geologist
Placeholder
True or False with Bajo and Rad BONUS ROUND
Placeholder
True or False with Bajo & Rad
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - Cats vs Dogs
Placeholder
FameLab 2018 - Get Involved!
Placeholder
Nural Cokcetin - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Erinn Fagan-Jeffries - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Noushin Nasiri - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Ronald Yu - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Alan Duffy's Top 5 Science Communication Tips
Placeholder
A Judge's Top Tips for FameLab Australia
Placeholder
Brain Candy - Why, Why, Why Michael Stevens?
Placeholder
The Past, Present, and Future of Malaria
Placeholder
This is a video of poo pills being made!
Placeholder
Mind Games - Sports Psychology
Placeholder
Fuel to Win - Sports Nutrition
Placeholder
Fifty years since Australia beat the world to space
Placeholder
ECR Network: Talk Your Science with Alan Duffy
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - chimps, klompen, and clouds
Placeholder
Our robot medicine future - heart huggers and micro biohybrids
Placeholder
Six Awkward Cancer Questions
Placeholder
How do you tell if a whale is left-handed?
Placeholder
She Flies - Turning Girls into Drone Pilots
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - Magnetic Fabric, Cancer Treatments, and Echolocation
Placeholder
The Science of Sexuality
Placeholder
Sailing Through Space with Bill Nye
Placeholder
Using Sports Science to Help Olympic Athletes
Placeholder
Three and a Half Minutes of Top Shelf Career Advice
Placeholder
New Space Tech with Andrea Boyd
Placeholder
Kelly Meets the Mars Curiosity Rover
Placeholder
Hearts, Opera, and Tough Conversations - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Bill Nye on Science, Girls, and Saving the World!
Placeholder
2017 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Part 2
Placeholder
2017 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Part 1
Placeholder
Who Decides the Law in Space?
Placeholder
Scientists Watch Collision That Created Gravitational Waves
Placeholder
Getting Cold Feet Leads to a Whole New Career
Placeholder
ECR Network - Why Every Scientist Should Be on Twitter - The Benefits
Placeholder
ECR Network - Why Every Scientist Should Be On Twitter - The Fears
Placeholder
Live Podcast - Life Vs Science
Placeholder
Origami Robots, Babies, and Kidneys - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Namira Salim and the Zero-G Peace Summit
Placeholder
Elon Musk's Mars Plan: Expert Analysis
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Thursday
Placeholder
My Time in Space
Placeholder
IAC TV Daily Broadcast - Wednesday
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Wednesday
Placeholder
IAC TV Daily broadcast - Tuesday
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Tuesday
Placeholder
IAC TV daily broadcast - Monday
01:00:41
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Monday
Placeholder
Live from IAC 2017
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Technology Rewrites History
Placeholder
Methamphetamine - Gateway Drug to Parkinson's Disease
Placeholder
Concussion, 3D BioPrinting, and The Universe - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Pulsars, Clearwigs, and Pacemakers - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Revolutions - The Quest to Transform HPV Racing
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Hurricane Irma Blows Away Tesla's Rip Off
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Limit of Your Lifespan
Placeholder
The Recipient
Placeholder
Think Like a Scientist: Natural Selection in an Outbreak
Placeholder
The End of Snow
Placeholder
The Next Rembrandt
Placeholder
The Discarded
Placeholder
The Spectators
Placeholder
Test Tube Babes
Placeholder
Pangolins in Peril- A Story of Rare Scales
Placeholder
Rock Art Project
Placeholder
Pork.0
Placeholder
OWSIA (Darkened Water)
Placeholder
Nex
Placeholder
Northern Quolls
Placeholder
Dish Life
Placeholder
At Street Level
Placeholder
Custom Love
Placeholder
Adrift
Placeholder
A Story from Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Most Dangerous Thing in Boxing May Be the Gloves
Placeholder
ECR Network 2017 – Get Interdisciplinary!
01:27:00
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: The Future of Space Exploration
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: Life After Space
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: Life in Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Let's Make Algae Australian of the Year
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Australia's Energy Showdown
Placeholder
Nine Awkward Astrophysicist Questions
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - There's No Such Thing as an Exercise Pill
Placeholder
National Science Week Awards Show
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Your 5 Step Asteroid Success Plan
Placeholder
National Science Week Forecast
Placeholder
Open Doors. Open Future. Open Day.
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Lose a Little to Gain Millions
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Crowd Sourcing Origami Astronaut Protection
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - T-Rex's Prehistoric Power Walk
Placeholder
True or False with Kale Brock
Placeholder
The Grandfather Paradox
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Hidden Heroes Tackling Mozzies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Emergency AI Assistance
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Frogs Forever, Dinosaurs Never!
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Australia, Let's Go To Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Welcome to the Microbiome, Archaea!
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Roos Blindside Driverless Cars
Placeholder
Biodiversity of Antarctica Under Threat From Increase In Ice-Free Areas
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Future of the Census
Placeholder
Tell Me! Brian Cox
Placeholder
Crash, Burn, Tweak, Repeat
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Humans Just Got Older and Wiser
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Cheers to Brain Health?
Placeholder
Gene Therapy Could Cure Allergies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - iHeart Hacking
Placeholder
Ridiculology - New Hubble
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Trees Alone Can't Save Us
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Earth's Accidental Force Field
Placeholder
Dinosaurs on the Big Screen
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Farewell MP3
Placeholder
Kids Beat Grown-ups on Pneumonia Vaccines
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Booger Conspiracy
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 National Final - Part 2
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 National Final - Part 1
Placeholder
2017 Budget Response
Placeholder
What Are Animal Weapons?
Placeholder
If You Love Both Art and Science, Be a Scientific Illustrator
Placeholder
Getting Personal With Skinks
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - CSIRO Email Leaks
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 Western Australia Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - New Hope for Premmies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Britain Goes Coal-Free
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Naked Mole-Rats (SFW)
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Easter Reminders
Placeholder
Meet Andrea Boyd - Space Flight Controller
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Sperm Drug Smugglers
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 New South Wales Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
The Science of Fiction
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Liquorice Poisoning
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Crowdsourcing Science
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 Queensland Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - SpaceX Preps for Relaunch
Placeholder
Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome Breakthrough
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Surviving a Media Storm
Placeholder
Will This Aussie Team Win the Race to Create the Ultimate Malaria Vaccine?
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - New Dino Family Tree
Placeholder
How to fix things with Kyle Wiens
Placeholder
Repair or replace? iFixit co-founder Kyle Wiens
Placeholder
Special Investigation - No Alternative to Cancer
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Raspberry Pi is Number 3 Best-Selling Computer
Placeholder
If reefs can't adapt, are they doomed?