“Hi! I’m from Earth!”

When send­ing space­craft, it’s cus­tom­ary to in­clude a note.

Air & Space Smithsonian - - In The Museum - BY DA­MOND BEN­NING­FIELD

All were crammed into a mini-dvd mounted atop the desk-size lan­der’s deck. It was made of sil­ica glass to last at least 500 years—long enough for 26th cen­tury astro­nauts to find it and de­code its mes­sages from the past. “This was a gift for the fu­ture, for the hu­mans we hope will one day live on Mars,” says Jon Lomberg, the space artist and writer who di­rected the DVD pro­ject, known as Vi­sions of Mars. “Find­ing these ar­ti­facts would be like us find­ing a piece of the Mayflower— it’ll be a part of their history.”

Phoenix isn’t the only ro­botic ex­plorer to bear mes­sages from the Old Coun­try. Many of the so­lar sys­tem mis­sions launched in the last two decades have brought along some sort of call­ing card. For some, it’s as ba­sic as a list of names. Oth­ers of­fer greet­ings, works of art, or col­lec­tions of small ar­ti­facts.

The Mars-or­bit­ing MAVEN, for ex­am­ple, launched in 2013 to study the Mar­tian at­mos­phere, car­ries thou­sands of haiku sub­mit­ted by po­ets around the world. Kaguya, a Ja­panese or­biter that was in­ten­tion­ally crashed into the moon in 2009, bore short wishes from thou­sands

WHEN THE PHOENIX LAN­DER touched down on the high north­ern plains of Mars in 2008, it car­ried a heavy load. In ad­di­tion to cam­eras, weather in­stru­ments, and a chem­i­cal lab­o­ra­tory for study­ing the Mar­tian dirt and ice, the craft toted 80 nov­els and short sto­ries about Mars, a gallery of more than 60 paint­ings and il­lus­tra­tions, sev­eral ra­dio pro­grams, and the names of a quar­ter-mil­lion peo­ple. Marvin the Mar­tian was aboard too.

more (as­tronomer Neil degrasse Tyson wrote: “The Moon: Once a dream, Now our backyard”). And New Hori­zons, which skimmed past Pluto in July, car­ries such me­men­tos as a small sprin­kling of the ashes of Clyde Tom­baugh, the Kansas farm­boy-turned-as­tronomer who dis­cov­ered Pluto in 1930, and a piece of Spaceshipone, the first pri­vately de­vel­oped ve­hi­cle to reach space.

“It’s a way for the public to es­tab­lish a con­nec­tion to these mis­sions,” says Tom Ma­son, out­reach di­rec­tor for MAVEN, which en­tered Mars or­bit last year. “In the early days, engi­neers at the lab would of­ten laser-en­grave their names on the space­craft. Now the public can do the same thing—they can send some­thing of them­selves into space.”

NASA cre­ated its first high-pro­file mes­sages from home in the late 1960s and early ’70s, at­tach­ing plaques to the Apollo lu­nar mod­ules and to the Pi­o­neer 10 and 11 probes, which ex­plored Jupiter and Saturn, then swept out of the so­lar sys­tem. The agency upped the ante with the twin Voy­agers of the late 1970s, which car­ried gold phono­graph records with mu­sic, dig­i­tized im­ages, and recorded greet­ings to any alien civ­i­liza­tion that might hap­pen upon the craft in the dis­tant fu­ture. The in­ter­plan­e­tary mes­sage busi­ness opened to the public in a big way with the Cassini mis­sion, launched to Saturn in 1997. The Plan­e­tary So­ci­ety, which has sub­se­quently part­nered with mis­sion teams on many of these mes­sage projects, or­ga­nized a “Send your name to Saturn” cam­paign that asked would-be Satur­ni­ans to sub­mit their sig­na­tures on post­cards. The names—616,400 of them—were scanned and stored on a mini-dvd, which will con­tinue to or­bit Saturn un­til Cassini’s mis­sion ends in 2017.

Since then, more than a dozen plan­e­tary mis­sions have car­ried their own lists of names—more than 12 mil­lion in all, mainly sub­mit­ted online—stored on CDS, DVDS, or mi­crochips, or etched on wafers or rib­bons of alu­minum or other ma­te­ri­als. (Many more are on Earth-or­bit­ing space­craft, which also have joined in the send-your-name craze.) Ja­pan’s Hayabusa mis­sion dropped al­most 900,000 names to the sur­face of the as­ter­oid Itokawa; another 650,000 were va­por­ized when they slammed into Comet Tem­pel 1 as part of NASA’S Deep Im­pact pro­ject. And about four mil­lion names are aboard Op­por­tu­nity, the rover creep­ing around the Mar­tian crater En­deav­our. ( Op­por­tu­nity’s now-dead twin, Spirit, car­ries a du­pli­cate list.)

These mes­sages-from-home projects usu­ally be­gin with ei­ther the mis­sion team or a sug­ges­tion from a des­ig­nated “out­reach” part­ner. “Each one is unique,” says Bruce Betts, di­rec­tor of science and tech­nol­ogy for The Plan­e­tary So­ci­ety. “Some­times the mis­sion team wants more in­volve­ment, some­times it doesn’t. You have to pro­pose to the prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tors and the space agen­cies, and get [NASA] head­quar­ters ap­proval. There are lots of hoops to jump through.”

“When we did the Vi­sions of Mars DVD, we had to com­ply with a lot of rules,” notes Lomberg, who has been at this game since he helped put to­gether the Voy­ager record 40 years ago. “You don’t want some­thing that will melt or shat­ter or in any way in­ter­fere with the science in­stru­ments. And we tested to make sure that it would last for cen­turies. We even put it in a nu­clear re­ac­tor to see how it would be af­fected by ra­di­a­tion.”

If the DVD sur­vives the rig­ors of the Mar­tian en­vi­ron­ment long enough for fu­ture ex­plor­ers to find it—and if they can de­ci­pher the cen­turies-old tech­nol­ogy—they’ll find the most ex­ten­sive col­lec-

tion of words and pic­tures yet launched to another world. The disk, which evolved from a sim­i­lar pro­ject for Rus­sia’s failed Mars 96 mis­sion, in­cludes Ray Brad­bury’s Edgar Rice Bur­roughs’

and H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds plus Or­son Welles’ ra­dio adap­ta­tion of the novel, as well as paint­ings by leg­endary space artists Ch­es­ley Bon­estell and Bob Mccall.

“It’s a col­lec­tion of science fic­tion that inspired peo­ple to build a space­craft to go to Mars,” says Lomberg. “It’s not nec­es­sar­ily the most sci­en­tif­i­cally ac­cu­rate look at Mars, but it’s sci-fi that got peo­ple in­ter­ested in Mars in the first place. We even in­cluded Marvin the Mar­tian, be­cause the first no­tion of Mars that a lot of peo­ple got came from those car­toons.”

While the Phoenix lan­der may con­tain the most words, the New Hori­zons mis­sion to Pluto and be­yond car­ries the most stuff. Its pay­load of ar­ti­facts in­cludes the usual list of names (434,738 on a CD), two Amer­i­can quar­ters (fea­tur­ing Mary­land, where the mis­sion’s con­trol cen­ter is lo­cated, and Florida, where New Hori­zons was launched), and a 1991 postage stamp with a paint­ing of Pluto and the cap­tion “Not Yet Ex­plored.” One thing New Hori­zons does not in­clude is a Pi­o­neer- or Voy­ager-style mes­sage to the rest of the gal­axy. “It was a very po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity for Voy­ager,” says Alan Stern, the New Hori­zons prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor. “It was so com­plex, and we were just try­ing to keep our eye on the ball, that we de­cided not to do it.”

Lomberg still hopes to change that, even with the space­craft three bil­lion miles from Earth and mov­ing away at 83,000 mph. He has pro­posed trans­mit­ting a Voy­ager-like li­brary of im­ages and greet­ings for stor­age in the craft’s com­puter mem­ory. He talked to Stern, who sup­ported the idea, and re­ceived ini­tial en­cour­age­ment from NASA—BUT no money. So he as­sem­bled an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee, started an online crowd-fund­ing cam­paign, and started think­ing about how to cre­ate a note from Earth in the In­ter­net age. “I thought: Why not crowd-source the mes­sage,” Lomberg says. “We can tell peo­ple that we want to send a pic­ture of a fam­ily or a for­est or a build­ing, have them sub­mit pic­tures, then the public can vote on them. That would be a bet­ter self-por­trait of Earth.”

Such a pro­ject is likely to take years to plan, and the mes­sage will take hours to reach New Hori­zons out in the far reaches of the so­lar sys­tem. By then, sci­en­tists and engi­neers may be plan­ning new mis­sions of ex­plo­ration, and the public will no doubt come up with new kinds of mes­sages to the uni­verse, some­thing no­body has sent be­fore. “Never un­der­es­ti­mate hu­man cre­ativ­ity,” says Lomberg.

Mar­tian Chron­i­cles, A Princess of Mars,

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