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Spacecraft and Their Messages

Just over 8300 people have now signed the petition supporting the New Horizons Message Initiative. The approach of the 10,000 figure reminds me to jog those who haven’t to stop by the site to sign the petition. For those not yet aware of the NHMI, the idea is to upload a crowdsourced package of images and data to the New Horizons spacecraft once it has completed its science mission at Pluto/Charon and any Kuiper Belt Object within range.

Jon Lomberg’s team calls the NHMI a ‘Voyager Golden Record 2.0,’ a worthy goal indeed, and I’ll also mention that the names of the first 10,000 signing the petition will be uploaded along with the images and data. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the initiative will be to see how the crowdsourcing project works to determine both the form and the content of the message. New Horizons’ principal investigator Alan Stern has signed off on the idea, saying “I think it will inspire and engage people to think about SETI and New Horizons in new ways.”

While we work on developing this self-portrait of our species, it’s interesting to see the new ‘Messages to Bennu!’ campaign that’s developing through the OSIRIS-REx mission, in conjunction with The Planetary Society. OSIRIS-REx stands for — get ready for it — Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer. It’s a robotic mission, to be launched in 2016, that will spend more than two years at Bennu, a 500 meter carbonaceous asteroid. A surface sample will then be returned to Earth in 2023.

Osiris spacecraft

Image: When the OSIRIS-REx asteroid arrives at asteroid Bennu, it will study the asteroid from a distance before swooping down and grabbing a sample. On board the spacecraft will be the names of everybody participating in the “Messages to Bennu!” campaign. Credit: NASA/GSFC/UA.

The ‘messaging’ side of the mission involves putting a microchip with the names of people who have submitted them to The Planetary Society aboard the vehicle. You can sign up to have your name included here. Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye sees the mission of his organization as being ‘to engage the citizens of Earth in space exploration,’ an ongoing campaign that ‘Messages to Bennu!’ incorporates. We can hope that efforts like OSIRIS-REx and the New Horizons Message Initiative help to reawaken an all too lethargic public involvement with space.

The OSIRIS-REx countdown clock actually started on December 9, 2013, looking 999 days ahead to a launch in September of 2016. Principal investigator Dante Lauretta (University of Arizona) clearly likes the mission’s acronym, saying in a UA news release:

“Osiris was formed from pieces scattered across ancient Egypt, where he awoke as the bringer of life and ruler of the underworld. Our spacecraft has a similar story — it will be consist of components fabricated in locations around the world, that once together, will allow us to connect with a near-Earth object that is an accessible remnant from the formation of our solar system.”

As to Bennu, the target asteroid, it is a near-Earth object whose orbit is completed every 436 days, bringing it close to the Earth every six years. The object is considered a B-type asteroid, a subgrouping of the dark, carbonaceous C-type asteroids. These objects are useful for study because they have undergone little processing since the time of their formation. In addition to in situ studies and the sample return, OSIRIS-REx will also help us refine Bennu’s orbit by studying the Yarkovsky effect — the thermal force on the object — constraining the specific properties of the asteroid that make this effect a factor in its future trajectory. That’s useful information to have as we study near-Earth objects and potentially Earth-crossing orbits.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • James M. Essig January 16, 2014, 13:50

    Just signed up. Thanks for the link, Paul.

  • Cherei McCarter January 16, 2014, 15:12

    Signed and shared!! Thanks for the link!

  • Paul W January 16, 2014, 17:12

    Who is the message for??

  • Antonio January 17, 2014, 4:26

    I can’t see the point of sending a list of names inside a spacecraft.

  • ljk January 17, 2014, 11:19

    Putting your name on a spacecraft is supposed to make the average Joe and Jane feel like they are actually part of the mission, even if their only real contribution was their name (plus a penny or less from their tax dollars, at least for the USA).

    Their name is actually on the vessel flying through deep space to another world. That may not be enough for you (or me), but it does at least bring extra awareness to a space mission that might be passed over by the general populace otherwise.

    That being said, I have long advocated that deep space missions, especially those that will leave part or all of itself on another world or in deep space where they may be preserved for literally millions of years, need to have more than just a list of names.

    Space is ideal for protecting and preserving information about ourselves, our society, and our world for future generations – and in some cases, the intelligent beings of other star systems. Every deep space mission should be carrying an information package that would make a future historian or ETI very happy to find.

    The New Horizons Message effort is trying to make up for what was lacking on that Pluto probe when it left Earth in 2006. It should serve as an example and incentive for all future deep space missions.


    The Rosetta mission to a comet where it will land a probe named Philae upon it this coming November carries a disc with samples of 1,500 human languages on it. No doubt a future historian and linguist will find this invaluable.



    Thanks to the preservative qualities of space in general, the requirement for an information package on a spacecraft does not have to pertain only to those vessels heading way out in the Sol system or even beyond it. See here:


  • Eniac January 18, 2014, 0:11


    (plus a penny or less from their tax dollars, at least for the USA)

    At $650 million for the mission, I get a little more than $2 each for every man, woman, and child in the US. Not much, but not a penny, either. What gives?

  • ljk January 18, 2014, 20:35

    I once read that figure in several places. I don’t remember where. In any event I would pay much more than two dollars to support a space mission. Most people pay more than two dollars for all sorts of useless junk that does them no good.

    That was one minor comment in my post. I would rather the focus be on the rest of my say, which is much more important.

  • Alexandre January 22, 2014, 1:14

    Come on, this is pretty shy. adding just names is not really relevant, why not send a phone book ? Better, the Cassini mission sent names and signatures (including mine, I remember the signatures were captured by some early Java applets ..). much better wuld be to send images or even movies/sounds. At one megabyte of authorized data per user, 10,000 users would fit in a 10 GB USB drive weighibg less than 5 gm once the protective plastic is removed.

  • ljk January 22, 2014, 11:16

    Here are some articles on what was supposed to go on the Cassini CD – a sad story of what could have been…




    To quote from the second linked article:

    A CD is “a very foolish method if what you thought you were doing was communicating with somebody,” Mr. Lomberg says. And even if some galactic civilization does manage to conjure up software that lets it read New Horizon’s CD, what will it get for its trouble? Names. Lots and lots of undecipherable, meaningless names.

    There is a CD with 14 minutes of specially composed music on the Huygens probe now sitting on Titan:


  • ljk January 22, 2014, 11:28
  • ljk January 22, 2014, 11:47

    Extensive quotes from Benford’s book Deep Time, for good measure:


  • Skotch Vail January 24, 2014, 4:35

    I have heard the one penny reference in terms of the total space program. For every tax dollar spent, you are spending less than one penny for all of the space programs in the US.

  • ljk January 24, 2014, 11:11

    Here is a better plan for sending items of substance into deep space, in this case to Mars:


  • ljk February 6, 2014, 12:32

    A History of Curious Artifacts Sent Into Space


    Since the dawn of the Space Age in 1957, thousands of artifacts and memorabilia have been flown into space. Some have been hoisted on brief suborbital flights, while others have been flung out of the solar system, never to return.

    And of course, it’s become a fashionable — and highly commercialized — trend as of late to briefly loft products, stuffed animals, etc via balloon towards the tenuous boundary of space.

    Fly a souvenir or artifact into orbit, and it goes from mundane to priceless. But a few may also serve as a final testament to the our ephemeral existence as a species long after our passing.

    Here’s a look at some of the most memorable objects sent into space:


    To quote:

    “Scientist James Van Allen tells of deliberately placing a fingerprint on the Pioneer 10 plaque in his biography The First Eight Billion Miles.”

  • ljk February 12, 2014, 21:37

    What costs more than space exploration? Plenty:


  • ljk May 19, 2014, 9:17

    The Golden Record 2.0 Will Crowdsource A Selfie of Human Culture

    Inspired by a similar effort in the 1970s, the project wants your help in creating a portrait of humanity to send out of the solar system

    By Helen Thompson


    May 17, 2014


    To quote:

    New Horizons will likely only have a small amount of memory space available for the content, so what should make the cut? Photos of landscapes and animals (including humans), sound bites of great speakers, popular music, or even videos could end up on the digital record. Lin is developing a platform where people will be able to explore and critique the submissions on the site. “We wanted to make this a democratic discussion,” says Lin. “How do we make this not a conversation about cute cats and Justin Beiber?” One can only guess what aliens might make of the Earth’s YouTube video fodder.

    What sets this new effort apart from the original is that the content will be crowdsourced. “We thought this time why not let the people of earth speak for themselves,” says Lomberg. “Why not figure out a way to crowd source this message so that people would be able to decide what they wanted to say?” Lomberg has teamed up with Lin, who specializes in crowdsourcing technology, to create a platform where people from all over the world can submit content to be included on the record.

    Global “Selfie” to Be Beamed to Outer Space

    The crowd-sourced message will be uploaded to New Horizons spacecraft

    Rachel Hartigan Shea

    National Geographic

    PUBLISHED MAY 17, 2014

    If you had the chance to send a message to aliens in outer space, what would you say? What would you tell them about life on Earth? How would you explain who we are?

    These are not hypothetical questions.

    This summer, you will get that chance to send a message to other worlds.

    Jon Lomberg and Albert Yu-Min Lin, leaders of an initiative called New Horizons Message Initiative, announced Saturday at the Smithsonian Future Is Here Festival in Washington, D.C., that NASA has agreed to upload a digital crowd-sourced message to the New Horizons spacecraft.

    The content of the message will be determined by whomever wants to participate in the planet-wide project. The message itself will be transmitted sometime after New Horizons does a flyby of Pluto in 2015 and sends back the scientific data that it collects.

    If all goes according to plan, New Horizons will become the fifth man-made object to travel beyond the solar system—after Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2. But it’s the only one of the five not to launch with a message for any alien travelers it might encounter along the way. The Pioneer spacecrafts bore plaques on their sides, and the Voyagers each carried golden records (and the means to play them).

    When New Horizons’ journey was being planned—it launched in 2006—other missions had been scrapped and the budget was extremely tight, explains Alan Stern, the principal investigator in charge of New Horizons.

    “I decided the message was the icing, not the cake, and we didn’t have the bandwidth for it,” he says. “Now I’m super in favor of this idea. It doesn’t cost massive amounts because there’s no hardware, just uplinking ones and zeroes.”

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    This message will be very different from the one Lomberg designed with Sagan almost 40 years ago. The golden record was created by an elite cadre of people over a breathless six weeks. The New Horizons message will be put together by as many people as choose to participate.

    “It was very presumptuous of Carl Sagan and the rest of us to speak for Earth,” says Lomberg, “but at the time it was either do it that way or don’t do it at all.”

    I have always found it interesting that Alan Stern says they just did not have the time to put together a message package like the ones for Voyager or even Pioneer – yet they had time for other trinkets to be placed onboard the probe, including the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh complete with a plaque. Do not tell me that getting NASA to approve of placing human remains aboard one of their deep space probes was a simple act, I do not care who it is.

    Here is an article on what is onboard New Horizons:


    I still think they should have asked some group to do something back before it was launched, but at least this current plan should be better than nothing. And may NO deep space mission ever leave again without some kind of information package for its future finders. You really want our artifacts floating around an unknown galaxy with no way to be identified or at least reassure its finders that the vessel is not dangerous? Some call card to the Milky Way otherwise.

    Here is another reason via article quote why we should have had something physical placed on New Horizons if we were serious about sending messages to ETI (or future humans) on the probe:

    “According to Stern, the spacecraft could outlive Earth. “The spacecraft will be in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “Nothing can happen to it.” However, cosmic radiation may eventually corrupt the spacecraft’s electronic memory. The New Horizons message won’t last nearly as long as the metal missives attached to Pioneer and Voyager will.”

    So HOW long will they last exactly?

    And finally:

    The new New Horizons Message site, where you can give your one-word description of Earth and humanity:


    And although you did not ask, here are my numerous thoughts on preserving humanity through information stored aboard space vehicles:


  • ljk June 13, 2014, 11:50

    NO PLACE LIKE HOME: 1 day ago

    The Close of Cosmos, and Golden Voices in the Stars

    by Nadia Drake

    Two golden records, each carrying the sights and sounds of planet Earth, are hurtling toward the stars at thousands of miles per hour. Borne into the sky by the twin Voyager spacecraft, these interstellar time capsules are coded in the key of science. They are Earth’s emissaries to the cosmos, chosen to represent our planet if ever the disks, each the size of a large dinner plate, are clutched by alien hands.

    As Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey reminded us during its final episode (can we have more, please?), “No other objects touched by human hands have ever ventured this far from home.” Indeed, the two Voyager spacecraft are sailing ever farther from home, exploring the solar system’s frontier like the maritime surveyors of yesteryear. Except these explorers are never coming back.

    For the next decade or so, the spacecraft will continue to send messages full of data to their home planet. But then, eventually, their power supplies will dwindle and those messages will fade. As the silent spacecraft sail through an even quieter cosmic sea, their primary mission will no longer be to gather data. It will be to ferry the murmurs of Earth, inscribed onto those golden records, through the darkness.

    The committee tasked with selecting the Golden Record’s playlist, chaired by Carl Sagan, had about six months to figure out what to put on there. Among others, Beethoven, Peruvian panpipes, the roar of a rocket launch, photos of Jane Goodall and the Great Wall of China, and greetings spoken in 55 languages made it aboard.

    My mom, Amahl, is one of those Voyager voices. She’s speaking her native Arabic, and her message is simple: “Greetings to our friends in the stars. We wish that we will meet you someday.”

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    As Mom watched this final episode of Cosmos, and the part describing Voyager, she says she was struck by a tremendous emotional punch. “Of all the people who are inhabiting this planet, only a few of us got to have our voices on it. And even though it may or may not ever be intercepted, just the idea of it representing human beings and floating through space…,” she says. “That’s quite humbling.”

  • ljk June 24, 2014, 11:51

    Greetings from Earth! NASA Spacecraft to Carry Message for Aliens

    By Nola Taylor Redd, Space.com Contributor | June 23, 2014 04:44 pm ET

    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.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Unlike previous records, the information on board New Horizons will not have to remain static. As long as the craft remains in communication with Earth, the message has the potential to be upgraded as the status of the planet changes.

    Although the spacecraft may never be found by extraterrestrials and its message may never be deciphered, Lomberg emphasized that the process itself has the potential to bring people together and reflect on what it means to be part of a global community.

    “For almost 40 years, people have been inspired by the Voyager record, a portrait of the Earth in 1977,” Lomberg said. “The world is very different now, and this new message will reflect the hopes and dreams of the second decade in the 21st century. It will inspire young people’s interest in science and ignite the imagination of all ages. We hope it will be an example of global creativity and cooperation, something that the entire planet can share as a cooperative venture, made possible by the new science of crowdsourcing.”

    You can learn more about the One Earth project at:


  • ljk June 24, 2014, 12:11

    Student-Led ‘Time Capsule to Mars’ Funding $25M Mission by Flying Photos

    By Robert Z. Pearlman, collectSPACE.com | June 24, 2014 07:00am ET

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — The team behind a student-led, private mission to Mars wants to send you to the Red Planet — for just 99 cents.

    Time Capsule to Mars (TC2M) is now offering anyone with a computer or cell phone the chance to upload a photo or other digital image to fly onboard its planned trio of 4-inch-wide (10 centimeters), Mars-bound probes for less than a dollar. As the project’s name implies, TC2M hopes to deposit digital archives on the Martian surface for colonists to someday discover.

    “Our mission is transporting a time capsule that will carry audio, video and photographic data from millions of people around the world,” Emily Briere, TC2M’s founder, mission director, and a senior at Duke University in North Carolina, said Monday (June 23) here at the National Press Club. “People can send in their photo, a picture of their dog or handwritten poem and feel they themselves are going to Mars.”

    Full article here:


    Images can now be uploaded through the project’s website at:


    To quote:

    The TC2M team, including students from Duke, MIT, the University of Connecticut and Stanford University, aims to raise $25 million, underwriting development of the project’s small spacecraft and financing its journey to Mars.

    “We hope this mission might be the first private mission to Mars,” Briere said. “We hope it’ll be the first interplanetary trial of ion-electrospray propulsion … and we also hope it’ll be the first student-led endeavor to [another] planet and first interplanetary CubeSat.”

    “So we’ve got a lot of firsts,” she noted.

    TC2M’s fundraising campaign has also offered yet another possibility — setting a record for the largest crowdfunded initiative in history.

    “I was a product of the Apollo era and [through TC2M] we are handing that off to the next generation who will take us to Mars,” said former space shuttle astronaut Charles Precourt, ATK vice president and general manager of the company’s space launch division. “I am going to have my kids’ and my grandchildren’s photos etched on part of [TC2M].”

  • ljk July 11, 2014, 15:42

    Dear Extraterrestrials: Sincerely, Earth.

    By Becky Chung — Jul 10 2014

    Earlier this week, data from a solar tsunami event captured on the Voyager 1 helped NASA confirm that the spacecraft, as of 2012, had left the heliosphere, the magnetic glue-like particle field that binds our solar system, and is now floating in interstellar space. With its sister ship, Voyager 2, not far behind— and also expected to leave the outer Solar System and cross over into interstellar space by 2016— the spacecrafts have been exploring deep space since 1977, sending back home beautiful photos of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. On both, fly very special cargo: golden gramophone records containing a message from Earth, or “a bottle into the cosmic ocean” as astronomer Carl Sagan called it, because you never know what might intercept the ship.

    Today, Jon Lomberg, the design director of the Voyager Golden Record project, wants to rethink the almost forty-year-old project for current times. Alongside a team of advisors, scientists, artists and technologists, over 10,000 signatures from 140 different countries have been culled in support of a crowdsourced digital message to be beamed up to the computers on the New Horizons probe. Launched in 2006, the New Horizons probe will be the first spacecraft to reach Pluto, come 2015. Then, it, too, will go into interstellar space— NASA is currently reviewing the proposal.

    Lomberg remembers the Golden Record as a project of galactic proportions. In 1977, six weeks before the record was due on board the Voyager spacecrafts, Carl Sagan assembled a mighty team of six to bring to life a physical depiction of the entirety of humanity and life on Earth. At that point, Sagan, whose life’s work hovered between fascinations of life on our world and beyond, had already worked on plaques with messages from the human race for the 1972 and 1973 Pioneer spacecrafts. Technological advances in the five-year span between the Pioneer launch and Voyager launch would allow for a more complex message to be placed on the Voyager spacecrafts. A gramophone record as the carrier meant the message could include music— “a credible attempt to convey human emotions,” as Sagan described in Murmurs of the Earth, his account of the entire endeavor.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    “The largest narrative was: this is our planet and this is us,” says Lomberg, who helped to visualize the message. Previously working with Sagan on the Emmy award-winning COSMOS television show, creating beautiful space art and animation for the episodes, he adds that Sagan, from the onset, wanted the message to be from the whole world— not just NASA or the United States. Though there existed an inevitably Western slant, the team strived to present an unbiased view of humanity: when Lomberg was crafting the image montage, he wanted to tell important stories, including how a human being is made, from conception to birth, how society rears children, what we build, how we eat, how we travel, and how civilization is, essentially, a strange combination of individual achievements and group activities. Lomberg and astronomer Frank Drake also designed the famous cover with the map to decoding it all. “Someone asked me recently if they could get a tattoo of it on their chest,” he jokes. “I replied, ‘Only if you send me a photo.’” To play a part of perhaps the longest-lasting work of human art, one that will last hundreds of thousands of years, he admits, is an incredible feeling.


    One major criticism of the Voyager Golden Records were that they presented too positive a view of humanity. Even though they were created in the midst of the Cold War, at a time when nuclear annihilation seemed all but inescapable, Sagan and Drake made the decision to showcase the light over the dark— they wanted to put humanity’s best foot forward. “If it survives and we’re already gone, why not let the best of us survive rather than the worst of us?” Lomberg reasons. But, with the New Horizons message, Lomberg thinks that the crowdsourced content will tell a different story. Over the years, he believes, a very important new narrative has emerged: a global awareness of the problems created through centuries of mistreatment of our planet, and of each other. War, injustice and death are all part of it; there’s no way to tell the story without their inclusion, he says. It’s just a matter of how, and how much.

  • ljk July 17, 2014, 14:03

    For those who still wonder why we attach information packages and other similar items to deep space probes with the argument that no one will ever find and read them, see here next the links I found to pages where various artists and others have been heavily influenced by the most famous interstellar messages of all, the Voyager Interstellar Records.

    Note especially those artists who might never have ventured over to the science side of C. P. Snow’s Two Cultures otherwise, thanks to this “art project” attached to the twin science vessels.

    Will real aliens find these packages of human information and knowledge? That has yet to be seen. However, those people who were “alien” to science in their everyday lives and work have found a bridge thanks to the Records and that is of great value in itself, as you will see…

    This blogger was inspired to post all the images from the Record on his site, along with the two written messages:


    This artist imagines an ETI having found the Record and playing back its contents in its own interpretation:


    A graphic of how human civilization and our world has changed since the Voyagers were launched way back in the distant year of 1977:


    This innovative middle school music teacher utilized the Record to educate his students; this included having them compile their own Record:


    As you will read in the site linked above, Ann Druyan did think about the less palatable aspects of humanity in the hour-long recording of her brain waves. This is for those who complain that the Record only contains the “nice” aspects of our species upon it.

    Here are some art exhibits directly inspired by the golden discs. I will let them speak for themselves, as intended:





    I include this next site on making music from tree rings as I like its parallels to the Record, especially in terms of how one species may interpret the creation of another:


    This is a photograph of the Voyager Interstellar Record about to be installed on one of the Voyager probes, maybe number 2. I have never seen this particular image before:


    I have seen at least three to four different stills of the Voyager Record being attached to the vessel. Is there a NASA video of this event? I did a brief search but nothing obvious came up.

  • ljk July 17, 2014, 15:07

    Of course this is, so far, the biggest artistic response to the Voyager Interstellar Record, the dramatically named The Last Pictures now attached to the EchoStar 16 satellite in geosynchronous orbit: