Akt Ok Science

Since I can never see your face,

And never shake you by the hand, I send my soul through time and space To greet you. You will understand.

James Elroy Flecker, from To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence

THE Interstellar Message Plaques, affixed to our tiny Pioneers and Voyagers as they cruise toward the boundaries of nearby interstellar space, are messages to the far future. They have been compared to letters sealed in bottles and dropped in the ocean, in the hope that they might be retrieved and read in distant climes, on far shores.

Future interstellar probes will certainly follow the tradition established in the 1970s by the designers of Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2. Some form of plaque will be mounted on the spacecraft to speak for Earth and humanity, in case spacefaring extraterrestrials encounter the probe in the interstellar vastness. But even the most advanced galactic space travelers might not be able to classify the message plaque as a work ofart or a work of science.

Even if ET could make that connection, it is very doubtful that he or she could understand one fascinating and distinctly human aspect of message-plaque design—the fascinating controversy elicited by our species' first calling cards to the universe.

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