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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

4 Answers 4

up vote 13 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 "another bughunt?", 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
@Lèsemajesté - See this related question… – 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
@Lèsemajesté I am fluent in English and understand how words work. That's how. It means "alien-shaped". Given the context, they were not naming the species, they were describing it. The only reason anyone would argue with me on this point is stupid fanboyism. – John O Dec 27 '13 at 9:57
@Jeff - That very much depends on your view of the book canon. In several of the early novels they're established to have a superhuman (IQ of 200+) capacity for visio-spacial acuity and problem-solving. – Richard Jul 14 '14 at 19:01

While there's no explicit mention of alien contact in Alien, we can make a few assumptions based on the later films that suggest that alien contact was probably already made by the time the events of Alien begin.

The Nostromo is on its way back from a mining mission on a planet around the star Epsilon Reticuli when it answers the distress call from LV-426. Epsilon Reticuli is roughly 59 light years from Sol, past what is known as the "outer rim" of inhabited space in the Alien films.

Several decades later, during the events of Aliens, this exchange takes place between two of the space marines:

Frost: Hey, I sure wouldn't mind getting some more of that Arcturian poontang! Remember that time?

Spunkmeyer: Yeah, Frost, but the one that you had was a male!

Frost: It doesn't matter when it's Arcturian, baby!

Arcturus is around 38 light years from Sol and is in what is known as the "core systems". We can assume that Arcturians are alien indigenes of a planet orbiting Arcturus, and that humans have have made "contact" with them.

Given that Arcturus is considered a core system, and that ships were visiting areas past the outer rim and therefore considerably further away during the events of Alien, we can assume that Arcturus was visited and contact made at a time prior to the events of the film.

This would explain why no-one is mind blown at the existence of aliens, per se.

Here's a non-canon map from the Alien Anthology Wiki to give you an idea of the Alien galaxy: enter image description here

And there's a discussion of the whereabouts of the Nostromo here

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As others have said, I think it's likely that at the time when Alien took place, there had been encounters with extraterrestrial lifeforms, though I get the impression that encountering an intelligent extraterrestrial lifeform must be a fairly rare event, given the clause in everyone's contract regarding the obligation to investigate "any systematized transmission indicating a possible intelligent origin".

However, the general lack of surprise/enthusiasm of the Nostromo's crew (with the exception of Kane) even at the revelation that the signal might be of intelligent origin tells me that intelligent extraterrestrials probably had been encountered by humans before, albeit rarely.

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Try to avoid commentary (and profanity) – Richard May 2 at 20:22

From the Aliens script:

The analysis team found no physical evidence of the creature you describe.

Good! That's because I blew it out of the goddamn air lock. Like I said.

Are there any species like this hostile organism on LV-426?

No. It's a rock. No indigenous life.

Did IQ's just drop sharply while I was away?

Ma'am, I already said it was not indigenous.

It was a derelict spacecraft. An alien ship.

It was not from there. Do you get it? We homed in on its beacon.

And found something never recorded once in over 300 surveyed worlds.

So the implication is not that they've never seen an alien, only not THIS alien.

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