Yea I agree, direct contact seems unlikely for quite a bit, barring a technological revolution that breaks the speed of light law, or utilizes the wormhole theory. Our best chance for contact would be through radio waves via the S.E.T.I project, atleast with intelligent creatures. Our first contact, assuming that life elsewhere exists will most likely be with microbiota. Mars and the moon Europa (of Jupiter) seem like the best bets in our cosmic neighborhood, Europa in particular is facinating, the idea of a massive H2O based ocean underneath a miles-thick frozen surface, filled with oceanic life is something that needs to be explored.It's been my anecdotal experience (over a wise range of circles/venues with this being a regular topic for me for 50 years) that people who are highly skeptical about life on other planets were more often religious believers than not (mainly Christians in my case, logically, but not exclusively of course). And what access I have to data from actual studies, some tangential to my profession, supports that---just to comment on that side issue.
Have to add (as Larry will know) that more than a few cool science fiction stories has addressed how organized religion might handle the appearance of an advanced alien civilization with either the same/similar God mythos, or a way different one, or none, or (of course a common theme in the genre) that the aliens are "God" in terms of being responsible for life on earth and how that new found knowledge then impacts our world.
I too support the math and certain other extrapolations of logic that make it seem pretty damn likely it's out there. But at this point I lean towards the side of the math and logistics and species developmental dynamics (limited to our understanding of them) that suggest contact may be highly unlikely for many many millennium (the odds, based on those aforementioned factors, being very small). Love to be wrong about the contact.
Digging through miles of ice, all the way in Jupiter's neighborhood is a bit of an issue though with current technology , doesn't help that NASA gets little in the form of funding, which is a shame.
We will probably have to wait for one or more additional missions to Jupiter and Europa to verify the presence of liquid water and life on Europa. The planning for these missions is just getting underway. Current plans call for the use of radar to identify possible ice-water and water-rock interfaces on Europa and for the return samples of the surface ice. The mission, currently called the "Europa Ice Clipper," is scheduled for launch in 2001 and could return ice samples to Earth by 2009. Europa's distance from the Earth and Sun and its thick layer of ice will make exploration difficult. However, discovering life on Europa would double the number of planets we know of with endogenous life. Even if no evidence of life on Europa is found, its exploration would provide a wealth of information about the chemistry and planetary physics of a very interesting body. Such information could help us better understand the atmospheric chemistry (with implications for global warming models), geophysics and other practical issues here on Earth.