Announced at the end of September, the New Horizons Message Initiative aims to add a 21st Century version of the Voyager I and II spacecraft’s famous Golden Records to NASA’s New Horizons probe, currently on its way to Pluto. The goal is to send a crowd-sourced message that will be uploaded to spacecraft sometime after the closest approach on July 14, 2015, at which time it will be some 4.9 billion kilometers from Earth.
The initiative is the brainchild of Jon Lomberg, Carl Sagan’s most frequent artistic collaborator, and Design Director for the Voyager Golden Records, which contain a collection of sights and sounds from Earth, and were launched in 1977. As far as his plan for a new interstellar message in a bottle is concerned, Lomberg wants us to “think of it as a self-portrait of the Planet Earth, made by its people in the second decade of the 21st Century.”
After New Horizon’s Pluto flyby, it will continue its journey and eventually reach interstellar space, as the Voyager I probe recently has, and Voyager II and Pioneer I and II will before New Horizons. Unlike its four predecessors however, New Horizon was sent on its way without any message to a potential alien intelligence that may one day find it. In order to add such a message now, eight years after the mission launched, the New Horizons Message Initiative’s first priority is to collect signatures on a online petition to convince NASA to agree to send a crowd-sourced transmission, including names, photos and other types of files, which will then be stored on New Horizon’s hard drive. The assumption is that an advanced spacefaring civilization, capable of intercepting the probe, will be able to access its memory and view its content. At the time of this writing, over 7,000 signatures have been received, and the first 10,000 names will be included as part of the message.
Icarus Interstellar, the world’s leading authority on achieving interstellar flight, is officially endorsing the mission, as it strongly supports any effort to send out a robotic messenger to the stars, ahead of future missions that will, given technological advances, will pass New Horizons on the way to their destinations over the coming decades and centuries.
Dr. Andreas Tziolas, President and Co-Founder of Icarus Interstellar, commented “ahead of us will go many messages in bottles, like the Tin Tin interstellar precursors our team is working on, which will also be interstellar vessels and carry messages; and will test critical technologies along the way, just as the NHMI is helpinh test the use of NASA’s Deep Space Network. The New Horizons message is an opportunity to gain experience with the DSN and sending messages over extreme distances, in a reverse mockup of how we will at some time receive messages from our probes, while they traverse the great expanses on their way to another star.”
Icarus Interstellar has, per signature of the New Horizons Message Initiative endorsement letter, stated that – “As scientists, academics, and interested parties working in other fields, we believe that this message is an inspiring idea that offers opportunities for public engagement and the stimulation of interest in science, engineering and exploration by a new generation.”
Among the many endorsers and advisors who have already come on board are Jill Tarter of SETI and actor LeVar Burton. New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, also supports the initiative: “The possibility that New Horizons could be loaded with an interstellar message is exciting. I know a lot of people in the US and abroad would find it inspiring as well, if it is approved.”
Lomberg is optimistic: “The first phase is getting NASA approval via the petition and expert endorsements. We have an impressive array of talent in science, arts, business, and humanities who are supporting our effort, including many veteran space scientists and engineers from many countries. Once we have approval we will start to design the message in terms of form. At that stage we will also be in need of funding to manage and complete the project, including staff time, and any payment to NASA for DSN uplink time, so any donations are greatly appreciated.”
The goal is to announce the call for submissions exactly one year before Pluto encounter in July 2015, and to have the messaged finished in time to present at the encounter.
Icarus Interstellar, which just organized the largest interstellar flight conference to date this past summer, is prepared to commit its global team and resources towards helping NHMI achieve its goal. Having one more messenger from Earth out there in deep space, heading towards the stars, is an endeavor well worth the effort.