What C.S. Lewis thought about space exploration and aliens

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The iconic Christian author addressed the space exploration and aliens at least twice. What he believed may surprise some of his faithful fans.  - (Image credit: http://bit.ly/15oZrHb)

The iconic Christian author addressed the space exploration and aliens at least twice. What he believed may surprise some of his faithful fans. - (Image credit: http://bit.ly/15oZrHb)

The iconic Christian author addressed the space exploration and aliens at least twice. What he believed may surprise some of his faithful fans.  - (Image credit: http://bit.ly/15oZrHb)

The iconic Christian author addressed the space exploration and aliens at least twice. What he believed may surprise some of his faithful fans. – (Image credit: http://bit.ly/15oZrHb)

In 1936, iconic British Christian authors C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) and J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) had a momentous conversation in a sitting room at Magdalene College. They decided to take separate paths in their writing, and at the flip of a coin, determined that Tolkein would probe “time travel” and Lewis would explore “space travel.” Tolkein never completed his time-travel book(s), but Lewis penned a science fiction trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

Last week, I quoted from the second book in Lewis’ space trilogy in a column on why Christians often oppose–but should support–space exploration. Some readers who engaged with the column asked me what C.S. Lewis actually thought about space travel. I did not know for sure, but my curiosity was piqued, and I started digging.

Lewis only addressed what he thought about space exploration (and alien life) two times so far as I can find.

First, Lewis published an essay titled, “Religion and Rockets” that can be found in a lesser known book, The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays. Lewis’ faithful fans may be surprised to find that the author seems quite open to the possibility of discovering extraterrestrial life, something he believed begged a bigger question: “How can we, without absurd arrogance, believe ourselves to have been uniquely favored?” If humans did find alien animal life (he believed discovering alien plant life would be theological insignificant), Lewis said, they would need to determine if these alien beings were rational, have “spiritual sense,” and are fallen like humans are.

Image courtesy of HarperOne

Image courtesy of HarperOne

If all three were present in these extraterrestrial life forms, and if we discovered that no form of redemption had reached them, then the human task might be to evangelize them. Lewis suggested that it might be that “redemption, starting with us, is to work from us and through us [to the extraterrestrial beings].” He continues, “Those who are, or can become His sons, are our real brothers even if they have shells or tusks. It is spiritual, not biological, kinship that counts.”

Lewis concluded by thanking God that “we are still very far from travel to other worlds.”

The second instance where Lewis discusses these matters is in his final interview with journalist Sherwood Eliot Wirt (published in 1963). Here the author briefly shared his thoughts:

Wirt: Do you think there will be widespread travel in space?

Lewis: I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can’t bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter.

It’s strange to hear Lewis talk of such things when one is used to reading his more practical and classic theological reflections, but Lewis’ openness is significant. It is especially so in light of many modern Christians’ opposition to space exploration and belief that alien life is theologically impossible.

  • Ben in oakland

    “It’s strange to hear Lewis talk of such things when one is used to reading his more practical and classic theological reflections, but Lewis’ openness is significant. It is especially so in light of many modern Christians’ opposition to space exploration and belief that alien life is theologically impossible.”

    you know what else is theologically impossible?

    religious freedom and ecumenism.

  • Ted

    “In light of his lack of clear scriptural salvation testimony, his heresies, his worldliness, and the massive pagan influences in his work, why are evangelicals today so enamored with C.S. Lewis? I believe the following are some of the chief reasons:”

    Full article at http://www.wayoflife.org/database/cs_lewis_and_evangelicals_today.html

  • b4en in oakland

    Some 45 years ago, Lewis very nearly convinced me to become a Christian. Eventually, after that brief flirtation, he convinced me not to.

    how? He made very plausible sounding arguments for the Christian story. However, those arguments almost always fell apart upon further analysis.

    One easy example: Jesus either had to be who he said he was, or he was crazy. I could think of at least three more possibilities that would explain it.

  • Jack

    Actually b4en in Oakland, you are mistaken. Lewis did not posit two possibilities about Jesus, but three: Liar/Lunatic/or Lord. You left out the “liar” possibility.

    Those really are the only three possibilities, once we assume that Jesus really did say the things attributed to Him.

    Lewis makes that assumption for simplicity’s sake…..but we can use that same three-fold test for that assumption:

    We can say that those who claimed that Jesus said the things attributed to Him were themselves (1) lying (2) deceived or deluded or (3) telling the truth.

    So let’s do it now:

    (1) They were were not lying — ie intentionally telling the world a falsehood. Why? Because they had many chances to recant but didn’t. All of them were willing to suffer greatly and even die for what they claimed to have heard Jesus say.

    Ergo, they didn’t make up the claims. They believed their own words.

    (2) They were not deluded or deceived……they claimed to be right there when Jesus made His claims about Himself….So nobody else deceived them. Were they hearing things? Unlikely, especially since many claimed to have heard the same thing directly from Him.

    (3) Conclusion: They were telling the truth about what Jesus said about Himself.

    And thus…..we come to the three-fold Lewisian choice — Jesus was (1) a liar (2) a lunatic or (3) the Lord.

    Once we establish the probability that those writing about Jesus told us the truth about what He said about Himself, the above three are the only three logical possibilities.

  • Jack

    Actually, Ted, in his book, “Surprised by Joy,” Lewis gives his testimony on how he became a Christian.

    As for “heresies” of Lewis, why don’t you name one of them…..

    Lewis’ “worldliness?” From all I have read about Lewis, he was an exemplar on how to follow the New Testament exhortation to be “in the world but not of the world.”

    The “massive pagan influences” on Lewis’ work? Do elaborate, please.

    Why are evangelicals “enamored” of Lewis? Because no Christian apologist ever combined reason and imagination better, in a biblical way, and to the glory of God, the way he did.

  • Jack

    If Jonathan Merritt had ever met CS Lewis, he’d probably have called him the sorts of names that people on the left reserve for people who dare to disagree with them.

    I doubt Lewis would like him very much, either, although I think he would try hard to do so. Merritt is the sort of person who will gravitate toward the Zeitgeist, toward whatever is culturally fashionable, even it that were to mean wearing a bag over his head and crowing like a rooster. For someone like Lewis whose world view was rooted in objective reality and absolute truths, such a person would strain his ability to be broad-minded.

  • Ted

    You weren’t even as close to becoming a Christian as you may have thought, because CS Lewis’ method of persuading you was foundationally unbiblical. The Bible explains in 1st Corinthians 1:18 through 2:14 why you have to actually forgo human wisdom in coming to faith “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1Cor 2:5)

    Intellectual pride is a stumbling block to being born again that makes men become fools (Rom. 1:22), and those who are saved couldn’t have it any other way. Lord knows if the gift of salvation depended in any way on sinful attributes it wouldn’t have any power to save anyone. (Eph. 2:8-9)

    The link on my name explains how to become a Christian as adopted from a message of the same title from The John Ankerberg Theological Institute.

  • Ben in oakland

    You’re correct, Jack. I forgot about the third possibility. I haven’t read any of Lewis’s theological books in 40 years.

    But that doesn’t change the argument. “once we assume that Jesus really did say the things attributed to Him.” That’s the big assumption, the one without proof. The things that are attributed to him are contained in separate books by different authors, all of which contain substantial factual disagreements, and cannot be considered historical when taken as a group. One of them might be, but all four? No.

    Here are some other possibilities.

    “Ergo, they didn’t make up the claims. They believed their own words.” All assuming that what we are reading are their own words. Paul himself said that there were letters, alleged to be from him, that were forgeries. If that is true, then either said letter was a forgery, or there are others that we don’t know about, including those in the NT.

    There’s an interesting book, quite scholarly, called “Jesus and the riddle of the dead Sea Scrolls.’ It makes a persuasive case that the words of the New testament don’t mean what we think they mean. It also makes a persuasive case that the whole early church was nothing more than a business model.

    Jesus is yet another solar myth. there are lots of very similar ones from all over the world: the savior, always a man, born of a virgin, who died and was resurrected, and came for the forgiveness of sins.

    Just because they believed this to be true, doesn’t mean that it was true. It only means that they believed it to the point of death.

  • Ben in oakland

    So god gave us intelligence, and then expects us not to use it? That’s even less than persuasive.

  • Shary Hauber

    Jonathan I am glad so many who oppose you are commenting, if they are reading maybe some day some truth will soak in.

  • This reminds me of a famous line from H. L. Mencken: “Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

    As to the truth of what is said about Jesus, your allegation that those testifying “were willing to suffer greatly and even die for what they claim to have heard Jesus say” is in error. As far as we are able to determine, the Gospels were not written in the time of Jesus, were probably not written by the actual witnesses to Jesus life and death, and none of them suffered any serious threat. For the most part, their testimony would qualify in court as hearsay — they heard it from someone who heard it from someone.

    This helps explain why there are inconsistencies in the testimonies (the thieves, the events after the resurrection, for example).

    So after all your careful efforts at logic, we can only say we believe, we partly believe, or we do not believe at all. This leads to the variety of denominations, agnosticism, and atheism.

  • Larry

    I never found CS Lewis to be a particularly engaging writer of fantasy and SF fiction. Too much “LOOK AT MY CHRISTIAN ALLEGORY AND TREMBLE!!!!!!” not enough actual decent storytelling.

    One of the most incisive (and noted) criticisms of his Narnia books comes from Neil Gaiman in 2004, “The Problem of Susan”

    “There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.”
    -JK Rowling

  • daveyork7

    His arguments are irrelevant. Either you believe the claims Jesus made or you don’t. The fact is however that you have to make a choice. Even a so- called non-choice is a choice in the negative.

  • Ted

    There is a predictable phenomena that occurs among those who have heard the Christian gospel invitation and choose to reject it, not so much out of disbelief as out of disinterest in the offer. (2 Peter 2:21) While damnation doesn’t appeal to anybody, apparently holiness is an even bigger abomination to reprobates. In the discipline of psychology this would be called an avoidance-avoidance conflict, where you have to choose between two disagreeable options. By my estimation the link you provided taps into that disturbed culture. I’d advise any Christian to avoid it. (1 Cor. 15:33)

  • Larry

    So I take it you don’t think much of Lewis as a writer of fantasy fiction either. His value to you is simply as a booster for your faith.

    I love how insulting and patronizing your tone is when confronted with someone who does not believe as you do. Failure to believe in the same fashion brands one a reprobate. That intellectual and cultural analysis is somehow disturbed for asking questions one doesn’t want to answer honestly. Pretty much a damning indictment on your part that your point of view does not value intelligent discussion unless it leads to a specific end you agree with.

    Gaiman and Rowling pointed out a very disturbing element to Lewis’s fiction. How his Christian faith informs fairly toxic attitudes towards women. Somehow the maturation of women is somehow a threat to piety and consideration in religious belief.

    If one feels avoidance is the preferred method of dealing with disagreeable points of view, then one should not expect much respect for their own.

  • Larry

    “For someone like Lewis whose world view was rooted in objective reality and absolute truths”

    LMAO!!! Lewis, like all apologetics for christianity was rooted in the relativism and arbitrary nature of his religious faith. Whatever argument which would get him to the end point of extolling his religious faith would be employed. There is nothing objective or absolute about it. In the end he suffers from the same issue as most boosters for Christian faith, sectarianism.

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  • Jack

    Ben in Oakland, we often disagree, but not this time. Right you are.

  • Jack

    Larry, I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. It appears that either you’ve never read any of CS Lewis, or you did and were seriously stoned at the time.

  • Ben in Oakland

    Since we are all swimming in Original Flavor sin, where to you get to assume holiness?

    “There is none righteous. no, not one.”

  • Larry

    Nah, I just find much of his defense of Christian faith is really directed at those already predisposed towards belief in it. Much of it is informed of specifically sectarian ideas and is not the great rebuttal to atheism as people think it is. The audience is really Christians who want to feel better about their belief among other Christians.

  • Harry

    Out of the many apostate forms of Christianity poisoning America these days there are two that are particularly dangerous. 1. The Prosperity Gospel and 2. Wrath obsessed Calvinism.

    You seem to subscribe to No. 2

  • Harry

    Meant for “Ted”.

  • Ted

    While the sinner is declared righteous in God’s eyes the moment he repents and accepts the gift of salvation (Romans 5:1), and it is also true that the regenerated soul stops being a servant to sin and becomes a servant of “obedience unto righteousness”(Romans 6:16), this isn’t what I was thinking about regarding reprobates being averse to holiness. I was thinking more about the holiness of God himself and natural man’s hatred of that attribute. Like Evang. Paul Washer says, “people want to go to heaven, they just don’t want God to be their when they get there”. There is pleasure in sin, but it is fleeting (Heb. 11:25). My previous post you responded to has a link in my username that connects to a short dissertation on the holiness of God by A.W. Pink, which was meant to complement my reply.

  • Ted

    I don’t agree with Calvanism. It is a waste of time to me to get wrapped up in a complex theology that attacks the simple commandment to go and preach the gospel. I do agree that repentance and faith are two sides of the coin of salvation, however. You can’t have one without the other. Matthew 3:7-8 gives us the Lord’s warning that you might consider “Calvanistic” or apostate, but I consider that fundamental to the gospel message. God is holy, you are not, you will be judged according to the standard of perfection, because there is sin there is wrath, repent therefore and believe the gospel. (see also Mark 1:15) The link on my username connects to an explanation of what the gospel is. You might also be interested in Paul Washer’s “The True Gospel” on Youtube to hear a clear and thorough version of just that. Or else a shorter one I thought was pretty good is on Youtube entitled “Salvation is not a prayer.Ye must be born again.part 1” also part 2 is good. I have others I could refer you to as well if you are interested.

  • ben in oakland

    There is always a get-out-jail-free card, isn’t there.

  • ben in oakland

    “God is holy, You are not.”

    So there is none righteous, no, not one.

    I’m not averse to holiness. I’d give worlds to see it.

  • Elledra

    It looks like Lewis’s comments are focused on the assumption that, in an engagement with aliens, Earth people would be the ones with power, exerting all the influence (hence the “earth = a colonial power” metaphor). But what if the aliens were the ones in charge or equal in power? And what if they WERE “unfallen”–a possibility Lewis suggested. Did he consider what it might look like if we were evangelized by them (what if it were a good thing)? Or is the idea of Earth people without power, not kicking physical or spiritual butt, simply unthinkable? 🙂

  • Ted

    Answers about CS Lewis’ heresies etc. may be found at the address linked to my username.

  • Ted

    A Christian’s walk is marked by “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”.(2COR 10:5) In other words, all such sci-fi “what if’s” are vain jangling to children of the Word. There’s a related article linked to my username.

  • Jack

    The “preaching-to-the-choir” pitfall is always one that apologetics writers should guard against. I couldn’t agree more. But what I especially liked about Lewis was his ability to avoid that, in my opinion.

    I guess I’m still confused about your use of the word, “sectarian.” It has more than one meaning. You need to indicate which definition you’re using, or use some other words for clarity’s sake.

    Lewis’ argument in Mere Christianity about atheism being “too simple” is not perfectly worded, as is his parallel argument in Miracles against naturalism being self-refuting. But a bit of tweaking on his part in later editions of Miracles cleared up the problem very well. And as for the Mere Christianity book, I did some tweaking on my own and found the result to be compelling.

    At the very least, the structure of human logic and language make it impossible to articulate atheism or naturalism without running into insurmountable contradictions. While that doesn’t prove atheism is false, it is exactly what we would expect to find if that were the case.

  • Ben in Oakland

    “At the very least, the structure of human logic and language make it impossible to articulate atheism or naturalism without running into insurmountable contradictions.”

    It all depends on how you define atheism, and quite possibly, insurmountable contradictions.

    There is a world of difference between “I believe there is no God” and “I have no belief that there is a God”. As there is another world of difference between “There is a god” “And the god that is, is the Christian god”. The latter has a great many insurmountable contradictions as well.

  • Jack

    Okay, I’ve since read them.

    My conclusion is that if God thinks the way you do, the number of saved people in the world will be small enough to fit into an old telephone booth.

    Clearly, that’s not the case.

  • Ben in Oakland

    Thank you, Jack. We don’t agree on a lot, but that we do agree on.

    Wrath obsessed Calvinists! What fun!

  • Ted

    “My conclusion is that if God thinks the way you do, the number of saved people in the world will be small enough to fit into an old telephone booth. Clearly, that’s not the case.” -Jack

    I’ll have to disagree that the number of saved in relation to the total population is small. Matthew 7:14 does say “few there be that find it.” If one looks at the biblical criteria for salvation, one finds that “Mother” Theresa did not have a sound testimony of salvation any more than CS Lewis did, yet Kirk Cameron and Stephen Baldwin do show evidence by their testimony of conversion (by hearing the gospel and believing) and by the changes in their behavior that followed–the fruits of repentance. I mention them because it’s easy to see and verify since they are public figures, but chances are you have known a few, but not many, in your own experiences. Few there be that find it.

  • Ted

    Correction: Upon further review, I don’t recommend Stephen Baldwin as an example of someone having a biblically sound born again testimony.

  • Art

    Speaking of Jesus…
    Hebrews 1:1 God, who at many times and in many ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds,

  • Ben in oakland

    Well, I guess that means we have yet another so called Christian who is not as good a so-called Christian as other so-called Christians.

    That pesky asterisk in john 3:16* strikes again.

    *exceptions may apply.

  • Ted

    Referring to the Authorized version, John 3:16 is absolutely true, and so is John 5:24; Luke 13:3,5; and James 2:19. Scripture cannot be broken, and there are no contradictions. There is a form of godliness that denies the power thereof, and this is just as useless as the dead faith marked by a profession without having any lasting evidence of a changed life after “getting saved”. So there are at least four types of faiths in Jesus: Saving, demonic, godly but unrepentant, and professing but dead. John 3:16 “whosoevers” therefore is referring only to those who have actually been born again by the Spirit through their hearing the Word of God.

  • Ben in oakland

    Well, sure. The passage couldn’t possibly mean whosoever when it says whosoever, because that’s just to obvious, too simple, too kind and loving. There must be ALWAYS be a catch, an interpretation, a net, something to exclude others. There must ALWAYS be a line drawn between the special people and the ordinary people, a line so carefully drawn as to, quite coincidentally, include all of the people you want to include on the special side, and exclude all of the people you deem not-as-good-as-you. Because htat’s what it really boils down to, once you remove the god thing.

    It shows up in just about everyone of your postings, this desire to exclude. It’s one of the things I think of as the fundamentalist’s disease. “God, an angry god, a god of wrath and damnation, has approved of me and mine. We will share eternity with him. You on the other hand…well! Do we have to go there?”

    Very frankly, Ted, your kind of Christianity gives me the willies, and not in a good way. You have an absolute certainty that you know and understand the mind of god, all based upon your equally certain understanding of a book written by people 2000 years and a universe apart from us. That it requires ever more arcane explanations about who is on which side of the line, and why, doesn’t phase you.

    ““whosoever” therefore is referring only to those who have actually been born again by the Spirit through THEIR HEARING the Word of God.” (emphasis mine). And you, of course, know exactly what they have heard and whether it is the word of your god.

    “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

  • Jack

    Ted, on the one hand, Jesus did say in several different ways that few will be saved, but on the other hand, Scripture portrays Heaven as including vast throngs of people.

    One obvious way of reconciling the two is to say that, while in percentage terms, few will be saved, in terms of absolute numbers, it will still mean lots and lots of people.

    100 million Americans claim to be born-again Christians, which is huge both in absolute numbers and percentage terms, but Robert Bellah, an honest evangelical researcher, believes that based on hard data measuring actual commitment, such as regular church attendance, the figure may well be as low as 20 million or less.

    If Bellah is correct, and he may well be, that gives us a good example of how the number of seemingly genuine Christians in America is both high and low — high in terms of absolute numbers, low in terms of percentage.

  • Jack

    Actually Fredric, you need to reread your own post in light of the Mencken quote. “Neat, plausible and wrong” is an apt summary of your words.

    At least three of the four gospels were written and distributed within the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries. And even the fourth Gospel, that of John, was clearly written by an individual with an intimate knowledge of the people, places, politics, religion,and culture of early-middle first-century Galilee and Judea. Most of that world was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, but the writer gets every detail right about what it looked and felt like well before the destruction.

    The most likely explanation is that the writer lived his life and traveled through those places frequently during that time and hence was a contemporary of Jesus. His relating in great detail the goings-on of Jesus and the disciples, including embarrassing details like the rivalry between John and Peter and Judas stealing from the charity (tsdakah) box make it very likely that he was one of the original 12 apostles.

    It is highly likely, in fact, that contrary to the old theories, every New Testament book, including even Revelation, was written in the first century. Albright, one of the most formidable biblical archeologists, believed the evidence overwhelming for that assertion.

    And yes, we do know that well within the lifetimes of Jesus’ contemporaries, Christians were being severely persecuted for their faith. They were being thrown by Nero to the lions as early as the AD 60s, just three decades after Jesus’ death. There is ample extrabiblical proof of that from Roman writers.

    These facts alone make it highly likely that most if not all of the original apostles must also have suffering tremendous persecution. But in addition to these facts, the early church fathers come out and say it…..They describe the grisly fates that befell most of the apostles.

  • Jack

    One almost has to have a low opinion of women to believe that CS Lewis had a low opinion of women. The one thing that is striking about Lewis’ writings is how they are not patronizing toward anyone. Even when he wrote for children, he expected them to read and think and ponder. And in real life, he was a strong opponent of talking to children in other than an intelligent and straightforward way.

  • Jack

    Ted, the casting down of imaginations is certainly not an attack on Christians expressing their faith through creative fiction. It has to do with thoughts and ideas which contradict the Gospel.

  • Ted

    Well the Bible says by 2 or 3 witnesses a thing may be established. You have the God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and the testimony of the saints to establish the veracity of the Scriptures. You also have fulfilled prophecy, so more than enough witnesses. If that doesn’t do it for you, then you’re probably foolish enough to reject belief that it repented God that he made man and expressed his repentance by killing every man and land dwelling creature except for those saved by the grace Noah found in God’s sight. But by 2 or more witnesses you know that God has promised a judgment for sin and that the only remaining refuge is through the grace of God by faith in Jesus.

    The link on my username, should you decide to click on it, will connect you to an article by John R Rice giving you “Six Pressing Reasons Why You Should Be Saved Today”.

  • ben in oakland

    fulfilled prophecy? got some examples?

    As for six pressing reasons? Only if you believe we need to be saved. It’s not my business model.

  • Ted

    “fulfilled prophecy? got some examples?” -b4en in oakland

    Sure, see item #4 after clicking on my username. You can also here the Sermon version entitled “The Bible’s Proof” by David Cloud at SermonAudio dot com.

    By the way, if you depress the “Shift” key and hold it down while typing a letter, the letter will be capitalized, as is standard usage for the first letter of written English sentences.

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  • Joy

    Actually that does seem to be the gist of his Space Trilogy – Mars is not fallen in the same way and Venus unfallen altogether (though there is the possibility of it falling). Both interesting ideas to consider.

  • Robin

    Hmm, I think Lewis was saying that Susan had grown up, become enamored with worldly things to the point of treating Narnia as a childhood myth. Nothing to do with sex or being a woman, everything to do with losing your inner child.

  • Robin

    I love what you said about holiness ben in Oakland..amazing

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