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If Prometheus had been an actual scientific expedition

January 14, 2013

I just went and saw the movie Prometheus the other day, and all I have to say is, ouch. And not just because Noomi Rapace gives herself a C-section, either. The problem is that now that I work in a science field, all science fiction movies have been ruined for me.

The science of Prometheus isn’t even all that bad. It takes some stabs at plausibility, like when the exploration team can’t breathe the atmosphere because it contains 3% carbon dioxide. That’s actually pretty accurate. Suddenly breathing 3% carbon dioxide, when it’s not what you’re used to, would be bad for you.

The bigger problem is the scientists. They make so many poor professional decisions in this movie, that if this had been a real research expedition, they would all have lost their jobs and been so thoroughly discredited they could never find another academic job, anywhere, ever. Sure, the idea was to make the movie more exciting, but I think it gives people the wrong idea about what the job is actually like. So I thought I would write this post about how Prometheus would have gone if the expedition had been run by actual scientists.

A biologist being stupid.

A biologist being stupid.

Log of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw

December 26, 2093

Insertion into a stable orbit around LV-233’s moon went flawlessly today. The rest of the crew are coming out of hypersleep with only minor side effects. So far, the expedition is going great. I’m so excited to learn more about humanity’s origins! Could it have been space aliens?

February 5, 2094

Charlie wanted to land right away and start digging, but we couldn’t do that because it was against protocol. Instead, we have just spent the last six weeks mapping the entire surface of the moon from orbit. Did IR absorbance readings on both the moon’s atmosphere and LV-233’s atmosphere to make the geo team happy. I’m still looking forward to learning more about these Engineers as soon as we finally get down there.

February 8, 2094

After poring through all the digital images of the moon’s surface, we’ve found signs of a non-natural structure in the northern hemisphere. This is huge. We now have evidence of an alien civilization that was advanced enough to make buildings. We’ve contacted the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Pentagon, the United Nations and the European Space Agency. We’re going to be the toast of the scientific community for the rest of our lives and we’ll never have to worry about finding funding ever again.

February 9, 2094

Mutiny on the ship. Now that we don’t need her funding anymore, we have locked Ms. Vickers in her escape pod and reprogrammed David to keep her entertained.

February 20, 2094

Many rounds of wrangling with NASA and the ESA about where we should land on this moon. Finally, everyone seems to have agreed that we should land near the site of the alien building. Soon I will get to do science!

There’s been no word from Ms. Vickers’s pod lately.

February 21, 2094

We’ve finally landed, but we can’t go anywhere until we’ve tested all the ship’s systems.

February 22, 2094


February 23, 2094


February 24, 2094


February 25, 2094

Today we opened the Prometheus’s heat shield and folded it again. Whoo.

February 26, 2094

More testing.

February 27, 2094

We got to open the ship’s front doors today and start to explore. Then Millburne called the expedition to a halt because he found what looks like an algal colony one meter away from the doors. He nearly wet his spacesuit with glee. We need to figure out what this stuff is and whether we can grow it in the lab before we can go any further. Oh, well. I will get to go to the alien site and do archaeology eventually.

February 28, 2094

I am becoming increasingly concerned that we have reprogrammed David too hard. He appears to be Mrs. Nesbitt, the High Countess of Winchester now. Still no news about how Ms. Vickers is coping with this.

March 10, 2094

The algae have been confirmed to be of extraterrestrial origin. We can proceed with the dig.

March 30, 2094

Spent the last couple weeks surveying the site, running mass-spec analysis on the rocks, and photographing every square centimeter of its interior. We’ve discovered the well-preserved bodies of several humanoid creatures inside. The Engineers are real! My career has been made! Now we’re going to spend even more weeks excavating the bodies under aseptic conditions with picks and a toothbrush.

April 12, 2094

Ran a DNA analysis on the Engineers’ tissue and it came out a 100% match to human. A new subspecies? Prehistoric spaceflight? I’m so excited I can’t sleep.

April 13, 2094

We ran the test again and it turns out that the sample is not only a 100% match to human, it’s a 100% match to our lab technician. He might have sort of coughed on the sample.

April 15, 2094

“Mrs. Nesbitt” has issued a request for cucumber sandwiches and jam cookies. Distant screaming can be heard from Vickers’s pod. Request granted.

April 20, 2094

A nerd fight broke out over whether Millburne’s algae can fix nitrogen or not. It turns out they can.

April 30, 2094

We appear to be stuck. Now that we’ve photographed and digitized all the alien inscriptions on the site, we need someone to translate them, and the only linguist on our crew is … not available. The head of security is trying to see if he can reverse the damage to David’s microprocessors. In the meanwhile, obviously we can’t touch anything if we don’t know what it is, so we’re not opening any doors in the alien site right now. At least there’s an entire world of algae to look at…

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