Forty years-ago, before Voyager 1 left our solar system and careened into interstellar space, NASA equipped it with a golden record. But this wasn’t just any golden record; it was filled with images and words from Carl Sagan, a well-known astronomer who hosted Cosmos: A Personal Voyage when it originally aired in the 1980s. So, essentially, it was like a time capsule for whatever alien life found the record. NASA astronomers want to replicate that same idea with its New Horizons probe, and your message could be included. This is actually going to be an all-digital affair, as you’d expect in the year 2014, so everyone has the opportunity to include a selfie, Tweet or maybe even a Yo. Back in 2006, when NASA launched New Horizons, the little probe was destined to study Pluto and its moons; the craft is scheduled to reach its destination next summer—some 300,000,000 miles away from Earth.
A NASA probe that’s expected to leave the solar system after it finishes its mission at Pluto and beyond will carry a message intended for any alien life-form that comes across it in the far future. When NASA’s New Horizons mission completes its study of Pluto in the summer of 2015, data from Earth will stream to the spacecraft to create a digital record that it will carry with it beyond the solar system. The record echoes the Golden Record carried by NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft in the 1970s and the plaques onboard the Pioneer spacecraft. Jon Lomberg, who served as design director for NASA’s Voyager Golden Record, worked with late astronomer Carl Sagan and four others to select a series of sounds and images that were combined on a gramophone record as representative of Earth. When Lomberg realized that New Horizons would become the next object to leave the solar system, he launched an online petition to include a similar message for New Horizons, called the One Earth Message. The only problem was that New Horizons launched several years earlier, in 2006. Instead of creating a physical artifact, Lomberg suggested creating a digital one: streaming data to the spacecraft once it had completed its study of Pluto and its moon Charon. He referred to it as a “digital Voyager record 2.0.” “In a way, the history of long-term space message artifacts recapitulates the history of communications technology,” Lomberg said. The plaques onboard Pioneer 10 and 11, launched in March 1972 and April 1973, respectively, engraved images on metal and stone. Voyager’s record was an analog recording on a record that few young people would know how to operate today. NASA’s Phoenix mission to Mars carried digital recordings of literature and art about the Red Planet in 2007.