NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover
Some of you spotted the special message I’m carrying to Mars along with the 10.9+ million names you all sent in. “Explore As One” is written in Morse code in the Sun’s rays, which connect our home planet with the one I’ll explore. Together, we persevere. http://go.nasa.gov/33S5SCa
On March 30th, NASA let the world know via tweet that its next Mars Rover, Perseverance, will carry the names of 10.9 million people etched on three silicon chips, essays of the 155 finalists in NASA’s “Name the Rover” contest, and a small plaque with a picture of the Sun, Earth and Mars, and a message – “Explore as One” – written in Morse code. Morse code? Are Martians still in the telegraph age?
This isn’t the first cryptic message NASA has left for extraterrestrials. In 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts carried a silicon disc the size of a 50-cent piece (ask your grandpa how big that is) containing goodwill messages from leaders of 73 countries (the U.S. and its Cold War allies) and the names of the leaders of Congress, the four committees of the House and Senate responsible for legislation related to NASA, and NASA’s current and past administrators. Buzz Aldrin dropped it on the lunar surface (after being reminded by Neil Armstrong) right before they left the Moon. It’s probably covered in dust by now.
Equally famous and easier to interpret were the Pioneer Plaques attached to Pioneer 10 and 11, the first Earth ships (that we know of) known to have left the solar system. They contained a picture of a naked human couple (designed by Carl Sagan and drawn by his wife), along with illustrations intended to show where Earth is. To show how times have changed, many newspapers printing photos of the plaque in 1972 had to hide the man’s penis and the woman’s nipples. Would ETs be offended? Everything was written in English so experts were still thinking any being who picks it up has been monitoring our radio and television broadcasts.
Voyagers 1 and 2 went beyond radio and TV to record albums (ask your grandfather). Carl Sagan was again involved in the design and selection. The record contains audio signals for 115 images, a selection of sounds of nature, actual musical selections (from Bach to Chuck Berry), greetings in 55 ancient and modern languages (a definite improvement) and a Morse code depiction of the Latin phrase “per aspera ad astra” – “through hardship to the stars.” Fortunately for any ETs picking up one of the Voyagers, the gold record has pictorial instructions of how to listen to it and translate the pictures from the audio signals. And yes, there’s drawings of an anatomically correct naked male and naked female.
The next spaceship to head out of the solar system was the New Horizons. It was originally supposed to complete its mission at Pluto and then receive a digital signal from Earth called the One Earth Message. Similar in concept to the Voyager Gold Records, the One Message would contain digital (not analog) images submitted and selected by people around the world. This crowd-sourced message could even be updated as long as there was contact with New Horizons. Unfortunately, NASA never fully approved the idea and it didn’t happen. Instead, ETs pulling New Horizons into their own cargo bay will find some really lame stuff – two CDs of photos of the mission team and human faces (but no instructions on how to read them), a piece of another space ship that was not involved in the mission (?), two U.S. postage stamps and quarters (so they can mail a message back?), a nylon American flag (but no instructions on how to salute), and the ashes Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto (but no instructions on how to scatter them).
Does it seem the messages are going downhill?
That brings us back to Perseverance and its Morse code greeting.
Does that answer the question?