Is this an official NASA project?
Not yet. NHMI is a private initiative whose goal is to persuade NASA to adopt our proposal for a message.
How will you persuade NASA?
We have an online petition which we hope will gather many thousands of signatures from around the world, a letter of endorsement signed by leaders in astronomy and other fields, and a fundraising campaign to demonstrate that we can provide a budget to support the project. When we feel we have gathered enough signatures and money, we will approach NASA and make the formal request.
Who thought this up?
Artist Jon Lomberg, Design Director for NASA’s Voyager Golden Record, had the original idea, which he has developed with the assistance of an international Advisory Board.
Who will pay for it?
We intend to raise the start-up money from individual donations made by signers of this petition. Once we have NASA approval we will plan a major Kickstarter online fundraising campaign to raise the estimated $500,000 we think project will need over the next three years.
What’s the money needed for?
There is a lot of experimentation needed to develop the techniques of storing and sending the message. We need a travel budget for key meetings, but of course will use Skype and teleconferences as much as possible to plan and manage the submission process. We need to design and support an extensive online presence to spread word of a worldwide contest to select the message contents. Then we will need to receive, archive, judge, and assemble the submissions. We need to form educational outreach programs for schools to develop STEM-based opportunities that will inspire and motivate students.
What will the message consist of?
Based on bandwidth and New Horizons onboard computers, we think we could send pictures and sounds as we did on the Voyager Record And perhaps new kinds of files as well, such as software or games, 3D maps and globes, and whatever other good ideas the world’s creative minds can suggest. Our technical team will research the many issues involved and determine the possible form and contents. The challenge will be to create the richest and most durable message possible that is also as easy as possible for hypothetical ETs to decode. As to the contents of the message… read on!
Who will select the message contents?
The whole world. Our goal is to hold a worldwide search for the specific pictures and other materials to send. Finalists will be selected by online voting in various categories of content. The resulting message will have been crowd-sourced from people around the world, creating a self-portrait of Earth in the second decade of the 21st Century.
Are all countries represented on your Advisory Board?
Not yet. But our list of foreign partners grows daily, and we expect to translate our documents into as many languages as possible. It’s impossible to represent every nation, language, culture, profession, and lifestyle. Our motto must be: the people at the table must also represent the people not at the table.
What about Earth’s animals?
We must try to represent them too.
When will the contest begin?
Our aim is to begin the contest exactly one year before New Horizons flies by Pluto on July 14, 2015. Between now and then we will have answered all the technical questions and know what kind of, and how much, content we can send.
When will the message be sent to the spacecraft?
There is no room on the computer memory for our message until all the data from the Pluto encounter have been downloaded. That could take an entire year, so we probably will not upload until 2016.
Once it is uploaded, can it be changed?
One of the novel features of this message format is that it can be changed. Unlike the Voyager Records or Pioneer plaques, which are beyond human reach after they are launched, the NH message can be enlarged or corrected so long as the spacecraft is in communication with Earth, perhaps for several decades. So the message could be improved and updated to reflect events on Earth during the post-Pluto phase of the mission. “Energy crisis solved” “World poverty ended” – That sort of good news!
How long will the message last on the computer memory?
Nobody really knows. The spacecraft memory is similar to a flash drive storage device, very different from the gold records on the twin Voyager spacecraft.
The extreme cold might lengthen the time it takes the message to degrade, or the radiation environment might shorten it. The most conservative estimates are a lifetime of a few decades. Other physicists and engineers believe the message might remain for centuries or even millennia. Another unknown is the advanced technology possessed by any ETs who find the spacecraft. They might have ways of reading the faded memory we cannot yet imagine.
How long will it take for the New Horizons spacecraft to reach the nearest stars?
Tens of thousands of years, but it is not pointed at any nearby stars.
It will cruise through space forever — or until somebody finds it.
What direction is it going in?
The spacecraft is heading in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, toward the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.
What’s the point of sending a message that might not last long enough for ETs to find?
This is a message to Earth as well as a message to ETs. For 40 years people have been inspired by the symbolism of making the Voyager Record, of describing ourselves to a hypothetical cosmic audience. Carl Sagan and Frank Drake brilliantly led a small team to make that message. Now, thanks to the world wide web, we can invite millions of Earthlings to join together to speak for Earth! The act of creating the message has great educational, cultural and even spiritual value, whether the message is ever found by other beings or not.
How can I learn more about the New Horizons Mission?
Visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html or http://pluto.jhuapl.edu.
How can I help?
Sign the online petition and tell your friends and colleagues about it too. Make a donation — We are grateful for every contribution no matter how small. Learn about our submission contest and participate in it.
Who speaks for Earth?
You do, if you want to.