Send your name to the stars with New Horizons
BY KEITH COOPER
Posted: 14 October 2013
When the two Voyager spacecraft launched to the outer planets in 1977 they carried with them two gold plated records attached to their hulls. The records were humanity's way of making a statement to the cosmos, containing sounds of nature, samples of music, images of Earth and greetings in 56 languages. Now a new initiative has been launched, spearheaded by space artist Jon Lomberg, to convince NASA to allow the New Horizons probe to carry a similar message to the stars, as well as the names of 10,000 people.
Changing technology has come to the rescue. Back in 1977 we used phonographic records. Twenty years ago we would have used a compact disc. Today information is routinely stored digitally. Lomberg's plan is to upload the message - 100Mb in total - to the spacecraft about a year after its encounter with Pluto in 2015, once all the data has been downloaded from the probe. The content of the message has yet to be decided and will involve the public, with large components of the message being crowd-sourced from social networks to garner a range of ideas. Crowd-sourcing has previously been used before in this capacity, when Russian radio astronomer Alexander Zaitsev used the social network site Bebo to colelct messages from the public that were ultimately included in a radio transmission beamed into space. To try and ensure serious
Lomberg says, however, that he will set the bar high for what will be included. Before that can happen, however, the project has to gain enough support to convince NASA to allow it to happen. You can sign up to support the New Horizons Message initiative. The first 10,000 people to sign up to lend their support will have their names included with any message. Notable supporters include astrobiologist David Grinspoon, the SETI Institute's Jill Tarter, astrophotographer David Malin and Star Trek: The Next Generation's LeVar Burton. New Horizon's Principal Investigator, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, has also given his blessing to the project.
In September it was announced that Voyager 1 had reached interstellar space. Voyager 2 will follow it in a few years' time. Pioneer 10 and 11 will also reach interstellar space, but have already shut down. New Horizons is also destined to run out of power before it too enters interstellar space in a few decades time, warns Alan Stern. Nevertheless, the message will be safely stored on its hard drive and should anybody find and reboot the probe - be it human beings in the future, or the much smaller likelihood of intelligent extraterrestrial life, they may be able to salvage the message. The Voyager records are designed to survive for a billion years; the longevity of the New Horizons message on the craft's hard drive is more uncertain. Regardless, the probe will be a long-lasting monument to early twenty-first century humankind that will go out into the Galaxy at large.