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When some of the crew of the Nostromo discovered the space jockey and the alien eggs, they didn't seem too surprised. It kind of seemed normal to them that yes, a corporation like Weyland-Yutani would want them to bring back whatever they found by responding to the signal. They don't seem apathetic, and are curious as to what is inside the egg, but it's not like a "OMG Aliens exist! This will change the human race!" type reaction.

Did humanity already encounter alien life before, or is the knowledge of the Prometheus incident well known on Earth by that time?

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Side note: If the crew were going to be surprised, I would have expected it to occur either when they realized it was an alien signal beacon (Ripley and the android were discussing deciphering it before the 'away team' had returned) or when the away team saw an ancient (and therefore predating human space travel) space ship. –  Andrew Thompson Dec 26 '13 at 14:26
    
I object to using Prometheus as canon. It's worse than AVP. –  John O Dec 27 '13 at 1:21
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

I don't think this is directly addressed in the original movie, but, based on the reactions of the Space Marines in Aliens, it seems that encounters with less dangerous, less intelligent, animal-like xenomorphs weren't that uncommon. For example, they refer to the upcoming mission as a "bug hunt", probably meaning that they expected to deal with something dangerous but easily beaten with their weapons and other technology.

In universe (which is conflicting at points), there also had been some contact with other intelligent life forms, such as the Predators. We could assume from there that by the time Alien takes place that space workers and other common folks had some knowledge of these contacts. They probably have encountered the remains of extinct alien civilizations previously as well.

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Worth pointing out that the Marine's attitude is justified: with the weapons and technology lost when the shuttle exploded, the Marines would have slaughtered the Aliens. Hell, a SINGLE autoturret killed dozens (or more). –  Jeff Dec 26 '13 at 14:30
    
@Jeff - The Marines went in overconfident and underled which caused their defeat. I'd say the overconfidence was due to their previous experiences and Burke not telling the whole truth about the situation. Also, the "by the book" inexperience of Lt Gorman and Apone's early death made the situation even more dire. In better circumstances, the battle would have been different. –  jfrankcarr Dec 26 '13 at 21:06
    
Doesn't "xenomorph" specifically refer to the titular species in the Alien franchise and not just any and all extraterrestrials? –  Lèse majesté Dec 26 '13 at 22:25
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@Lèsemajesté - See this related question scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/18202/… –  System Down Dec 26 '13 at 22:35
    
I took it to mean any animal/insect-like alien lifeform based on this line from Lt. Gorman, "All we know is that there's still no contact with the colony, and that a xenomorph may be involved." and Hicks' response, " It's a bug hunt." –  jfrankcarr Dec 26 '13 at 22:36
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