Despite the end of the space shuttle program, NASA is as busy as ever. The New Horizons probe was launched in 2006, set on a course to encounter Pluto and Golden Record creator Jon Lomberg wants to put it to good use. Lomberg was hand-picked by Carl Sagan in 1977 to design a greeting for whatever life NASA’s Voyager might encounter on its journey. The “record” is gold-plated and attached to the outside of the probe. Lomberg has spearheaded a petition to update this snapshot of Earth using the New Horizons spacecraft, and he wants you to help him.
Two probes before Voyager carried plaques detailing their date of launch and origin, but Voyager was our first attempt to actually communicate with whoever is out there. On Guardian.com, Lomberg states “The Voyager record was our best foot forward. We…talked about what we were like on a good day [sic] It was a sanitized portrait (of Earth).” Lomberg has launched the New Horizons Message Initiative, aimed towards using the probe to give any intelligent life out there an updated idea of what Earthlings are doing to these days. The petition seeks signatures requesting NASA’s approval to use a portion of New Horizon’s on-board memory to deliver a current snapshot of Earth.
The Golden Record, brilliantly designed as it was, is static, and cannot be changed to reflect Earth in the 21st century. Do we really want our first encounter with non-Earth based intelligent life to be over 30 years out of date? This is Lomberg’s reasoning as he sets forth to bring together funding and technology to get this project off the ground. Lomberg wants to give our future interplanetary friends a more accurate, more realistic view of life on Earth. The Golden Record contributions were selected by “the elite” with no general input from society. Lomberg wants to create a database of files generated through online “crowd-sourcing” that can be remotely uploaded to New Horizons on an ongoing basis. Where the Golden Record contains musical pieces from Bach to Chuck Berry, along with a simplified map (We are Here), New Horizons could carry mp3s, video clips and musical pieces selected and submitted by the general public. Lomberg wants to give our future friends a “human fingerprint” that is almost as current as our planet-bound social media sites.
With Voyager reported as the first man made object to enter interstellar space, New Horizons is scheduled to reach Pluto in 2015. Lomberg is working to build funds and support for the project with his online petition, and the process looks promising. First, a format that can be easily decoded by aliens must be decided upon and implemented. Then, the crowd-sourcing can begin.
Technology is fast approaching the stage where interstellar travel for humans will no longer be relegated to science fiction. NASA Jet Propulsion specialists believe they can take Voyager’s 36 year journey and shave it down to 15- 18 years. In terms of space travel, this a breathtaking leap forward.
Emerging technology may allow us to reach out into the stars in the flesh, following up on our messages from Earth. Perhaps by the time our future alien friends decode Voyager’s record, and New Horizons’ data, we will be hard on the heels of the data and able to physically shake hands with other intelligent life. Lomberg’s petition supports this possibility and his contribution to NASA’s past and present work continues to lead the world out into the stars.
Written by: Brandi Tasby