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LOST IN CYBERSPACE

For about 24 hours, space cadets on the Internet thought they had crossed the final frontier, as British news reports predicted that the United Nations was poised to name an ambassador to the galaxy.

London’s Sunday Times broke the story of an envoy to outer space, quickly followed by The Telegraph. The news went global when The Australian in Sydney carried a similar, breathless report.

The Telegraph said, “Aliens who landed on earth and asked: ‘Take me to your leader,’ would be directed to” Mazlan Othman, an astrophysicist from Malaysia.

Mrs. Othman was expected to announce her appointment next week at a conference at London’s prestigious Royal Society during “World Space Week.”

The 58-year-old scientist is director of the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs. The bureau was described as a “little-known office,” which gave it the sinister air of something from “The X Files.” The truth may be out there, but it is locked behind the doors of UNOOSA. Oh, no!

Actually, the office has the rather humdrum duty of promoting the peaceful use of outer space.

The Telegraph also noted that the United Nations actually prepared for intergalactic visitors as long ago as 1967, when it adopted the Outer Space Treaty. It requires U.N. officials who meet space aliens to take precautions against the possible spread of interstellar disease by immediately “sterilizing” the visitors.

Mrs. Othman,” the newspaper added, “is understood to support a more tolerant approach.”

The newspapers even quoted from a recent speech she had given, which seemed to add weight to the story.

“The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that someday humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials,” she said. “When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The U.N. is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination.”

Reporters boosted the story with a quote from an expert.

Richard Crowther of the United Kingdom’s Space Agency said, “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take-me-to-your-leader’ person.”

However, as with all stories that are too good to be true, this one started to unravel quickly. On Monday, another British newspaper, The Guardian, actually contacted Mrs. Othman, something the other papers had failed to do.

“It sounds really cool, but I have to deny it,” she said.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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