A diverse team of artists, astronomers, engineers, physicists, teachers and others are pushing for a crowdsourced message from humanity to be uploaded aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it reaches Pluto in 2015.
The team is led by Jill Tarter, who holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair at the SETI Institute and Jon Lomberg, a frequent collaborator of Carl Sagan and the design director for the famous Voyager Golden Record containing sights and sounds of life on Earth, as noted by Space.com. (SETI is the acronym for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.)
Speaking at the 100-Year Starship Symposium in Houston, Tarter said the Golden Record aboard the two Voyager spacecraft paints “the most rosy picture of humanity out there for the cosmos to discover.” If we’re going to send a message for extraterrestrial beings to encounter, it needs to be brought up-to-date, Tarter said.
“When New Horizons gets past Pluto, [and] has done all its data and is going on the slow boat to the heliopause, then it might be possible to just reprogram about 100 megabytes of its memory and upload new sights and sounds of Earth that are not created by a small group of scientists but, in fact, are globally crowdsourced,” Tarter said.
Thus, Tarter, Lomberg and their team created the New Horizons Message Initiative, a website asking NASA to upload a new crowdsourced message aboard the New Horizons spacecraft.
“The New Horizons Message Initiative hopes to persuade NASA to upload a crowd-sourced message to the spacecraft’s memory, following a successful Pluto encounter,” the site’s official website states. “The form and content of the message are yet to be determined, but will probably consist of pictures and, possibly, sounds. This is a project to create and implement that message.”
According to Space.com, Lomberg said in a statement: “Like the Voyager Record, this will be both a message from Earth and a message to Earth. The very act of creating it will be a powerful reminder that we all share a common heritage and future on this ‘pale blue dot’ we call Earth.”
As Space.com reported, NASA considered putting a message aboard New Horizons before it launched on Jan. 19, 2006, but ultimately decided against it. “After we got into the project in 2002, it was suggested we add a plaque, and I rejected that simply as a matter of focus,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator. “We had a small team on a tight budget, and I knew it would be a big distraction. I didn’t want to see us being distracted from the project and find ourselves derailing the project or getting into flight and finding we had some problem and wishing we’d have been more focused during development.”