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I've just finished watching the Contact movie and having had time to reflect a bit more on it, I still cannot understand why the government would not just send a second pod through the machine if they seriously did not believe Dr. Arroway. I mean, the thing cost what? Half a trillion dollars to build, why not use it at least a second time? Unlike religion there is actually a way to test the testimony and they do not have to take it on faith at all.

Note that I did not read the novel (yet) and I would appreciate it that if it is answered in the novel that somebody tells me.

  • 1
    A good question for Earth Day. ;) – user1027 Apr 23 '11 at 4:54
23

According to the book, the "stationmasters" (there were multiple people sent through the system in the book, and they ended up docking at a giant "grand central station" for the pods), said that once a pod had been sent, no further pods could be sent through, it was a one time offer.

However, the end result was similar to the movies, so it was still not believed.

2

IMHO, it still wouldn't prove anything. Let's say the same thing happens to the second pod: the passenger gets the wonderful experience, but the observers on Earth see nothing interesting. Once again it would just be the word of the person in the pod. Having two testimonies instead of one is not likely to convince anybody.

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    Certainly true, but having something that is reproducible "under lap conditions" opens up the possibility of figuring out a way to prove it. – XQYZ Apr 23 '11 at 18:18
  • In this case, only the testimony would be reproducible, and even that is assuming that the second traveler would tell the truth. Unless the amount of noise recorded on the camera is accepted as hard evidence, this would not help convince people. – Dima Apr 23 '11 at 20:45
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    If memory serves, the book version does show the military hushing up the fact that the recorder, while showing only static, shows exactly the right amount of static for the length of time the traveler claims to have been gone. (Been years since I've read that one) – Allen Gould Feb 14 '12 at 21:28
  • @AllenGould, that's exactly what I was saying. It was exactly the right length of time in the movie too. The question is, will that be enough to convince anybody? – Dima Feb 14 '12 at 21:50
  • @Dima - ah, misunderstood. My reading of that was that the military did believe her (hence the funding of her research, etc), but that it was going to deny it for it's own reasons. (I really need to reread that book again!) – Allen Gould Feb 15 '12 at 16:38
2

Perhaps the government was aware of another empirical test that Ellie Arroway was given by the extraterrestrials: following her return, she begins to work out a program to compute the digits of π to never-before reached lengths and using different bases. Finally, in base 11 and 1020 digits from the decimal point, she discovers a special non-random pattern of 1s and 0s that is the product of 11 prime numbers. When the 1s and 0s are organized they form a rasterized circle. Ellie learned from the extraterrestrials that this is a “signature” of the Maker(s?) of the universe. This plot point is omitted from the film version.

  • Not quite. The epilogue mentions that Ellie knew this message was "too early" in the sequence to be what the aliens were referring to. I always took it as a "welcome in" hint to keep looking, and that the "mystery message" was vastly more complex and tantalizing, still undiscovered by humans, and left unspecified for the reader's imagination to dream about. Also, the book argued that the government knew very well that the trip was real (e.g. hours of static on tape), but it was politically more advantageous to maintain the non-success façade. IMHO the book was vastly better SF than the movie. – Euro Micelli Jun 12 '13 at 5:07
1

An answer from the film:

This conversation happens in "Pensacola" (note - this is not exact transcription from the film, but from this script, but the exchange is similar enough in the film)

                 ELLIE
           Can we come back?

                  TED
    Eventually you'll get here on your
    own.  This was just the first step;
    in time you'll take another.

In short, Ellie asks if they can come back and is told no, not in that same way at least

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