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New golden record may be uploaded to New Horizons probe

Jenny Winder, News Writer
Apr 22, 2015, 2:21 UTC

Sen—A new project aims to use the New Horizons mission to carry a digital message from Earth to the stars, with the hope that one day it might be heard by an alien civilisation.

The New Horizons probe, which launched in 2006, is fast on its way to the outer Solar System and will fly past Pluto on July 14, 2015. The spacecraft will then go on to explore the Kuiper belt and will eventually head to interstellar space like Voyagers 1 and 2. New Horizons will head in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, towards the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy, forever—or until somebody finds it.

Given its destiny with the stars, Jon Lomberg came up with the idea that the probe should carry a message from Earth, and set up the One Earth Message (OEM) project. Lomberg has a track record, literally, for such a project—he was Carl Sagan's official artist and Design Director for the golden record aboard each Voyager probe. The golden records aboard the twin Voyager spacecraft each carry images, musical selections and greetings in 55 languages, selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan.

Digitizing the golden record idea means there is a lot more scope for new project. Lomberg told Sen: "The One Earth Message is a chance for everyone to experience the thrill of contributing to a message destined to leave the Solar System and perhaps be found by ETs up to a million years from now.

"It is a crowd-funded and crowd-sourced "Voyager Record 2.0" which will be made in an act of global creative cooperation and uploaded to the onboard computer on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. The nominal plan is to upload the message approximately one year after the Pluto Encounter."

Lomberg added: "The most important directive Carl gave me when I started working on the Voyager Record was that the message be as globally inclusive as possible. The planet-wide crowd-sourcing and crowd-selecting our project will use reflects this well, and I think that is the aspect that would please him most."

The fundraising for the One Earth Message project is being organised by Fiat Physica, a company that uses crowdfunding to raise support for physics research, education and outreach.

Mark Jackson, founder of Fiat Physica, told Sen: "Projects with a participatory mission at heart, like One Earth Message, are ideal for crowdfunding. We are thrilled to be part of making this happen."

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Each of the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 carry a 12-inch gold-plated phonograph record with images and sounds from Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Carl Sagan and Frank Drake led a small team to make the golden record message carried by the Voyager probes. The internet now means the message can be crowd-sourced from a much larger global audience.

Most of the message contents will be submitted and selected by the general public, moderated by the One Earth Message Project, and ultimately reviewed by NASA. 

Unlike the Voyager Records which were beyond human reach after launch, the New Horizons message can be enlarged and modified for as long as the spacecraft is in communication with Earth, perhaps for several decades. So additional messages could be added in the decades to come to reflect events on Earth during the post-Pluto phase of the mission.

The public are asked to get things started by submiting one word to describe one aspect of life on earth they think should be included in a message to the Universe. The idea is to create the richest and most durable message possible that is also as easy as possible for hypothetical ETs to decode. The team hope also to send pictures, sounds and possibly 3D files, though this may depend on bandwidth and the amount of storage set aside on the New Horizons' systems for the message.

Formal approval for to send the One Earth Message to New Horizons is still pending with NASA. The team are confident they will receive the go ahead.

A video to launch the One Earth Message fundraising campaign for uploading a digital message to ET. Credit: One Earth Message