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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
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I object to using Prometheus as canon. It's worse than AVP. – John O Dec 27 '13 at 1:21
    
They were surprised, but they didn't show it because they were too busy dying. – Wad Cheber Apr 29 at 4:30
up vote 18 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
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@Lèsemajesté - See this related question scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/18202/… – System Down Dec 26 '13 at 22:35
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@Lèsemajesté "Xenomorph" is clearly an adjective, in the same sense as: humanoid, quadruped, ursine, serpentine, etc. Basically, it would be the catch-all word for things that don't resemble the other shape-words (some of which I listed). That the comic book nerds have latched onto it as the name of the alien species is pathetic. I prefer calling them Gigers. I contest any assertion that it is an official name. – John O Dec 27 '13 at 1:24
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@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
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@Richard: They Aliens aren't an intelligent enemy. They're a cunning enemy, which isn't the same. – Jeff Jul 14 '14 at 18:54

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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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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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 '15 at 20:22

Self-preservation and more importantly, money.

These are blue collar workers that were on their way home and that's where they expected to be when they woke up. But:

"There is a clause in the contract which specifically states any systematized transmission indicating a possible intelligent origin must be investigated" ... "under penalty of total forfeiture of shares. (No money)." –Ash

You got that? - (sarcastic enthusiasm) YEAH! We're going in!

Later on, there's some more arguing about getting shares, which ends with Parker saying, "Son of a bitch." His attitude is decidedly less than apathetic. The only one who seemed really into it, the first and only one to volunteer, was Cain. Lambert's advice upon examining the engineer: "Let's get the hell out of here."


OMG Aliens exist! This will change the human race!

IMO, religion had died out long ago. Exactly how would this change humanity? These are not scientists: how much of your life has changed since the "discovery" of gravitational waves?

The only thing that will change (hands) is money. "Look, those two specimens are worth millions the bio-weapons division." –Burke in Aliens


Given what we now know of Weyland Yutani's business practices, I highly doubt that anything they do is, "well known on Earth."

Given the statement in the contract, (and IRL logic) it is extremely likely (although unverifiable, even with the Aliens script) that extraterrestrial life had been discovered previously.

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Note, the self-preservation isn't about OMG. Aliens gonna eat us! It's because operating in space is inherently dangerous in the first place. It's a pretty bumpy ride down to the surface... – Mazura Apr 29 at 5:19

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