I wasn't so much talking about intelligent aliens but rather alien life even if it's of a bacterial type. I do however get excited about the possibility of intelligent life. In my mind, finding any kind of alien life out there would almost certainly create the likely possibility of intelligent life somewhere as well. I could die and rest easily if the simplest life form was found and would imagine that evolution could create life in many places. Since the universe if a fairly big place it's probable it was happening in many places.
Your interest in how life began is also one that is gaining traction and investment in current science research. I'm sure you're familiar with the Urey-Miller experiment but are you keeping up with the latest such studies? Pretty awesome stuff there!
Consciousness... So far away from us. I don't even bother reading the science on this because we are so far from cracking that nut. When there's some kind of consensus then I'll give it a solid read. Too speculative for me at this point for more than a cusory read. Certainly it's an important thing to understand or solve. Many it'll turn out we aren't conscious but rather have the illusion of such things. Either way what really matters is that we come to know how mind comes from the brain.
Many of your interests are similar to mine :)