Inscribing Scientific Knowledge: Interstellar Communication, NASA’s Pioneer Plaque, and Contact with Cultures of the Imagination, 1971–1972

  • William R. Macauley


Space exploration during the late twentieth century began incorporating ‘interstellar messages,’ primarily in the form of material artifacts and electromagnetic signals, deliberately created by humans and transmitted from earth, in an effort to establish contact with possible extraterrestrial intelligence in distant star systems.2 Systematic attempts were made by groups of scientists and their associates to detect incoming interstellar messages from extraterrestrials and, more rarely, send messages from earth to technologically advanced civilizations located in astronomically remote planetary systems or traveling through interstellar regions of space. This chapter focuses on a specific interstellar message incorporated on a specially constructed material artifact — NASA’s Pioneer plaque — dispatched from earth on board a spacecraft launched in 1972 and 1973 (Figure 15.1).


Visual Representation Radio Telescope Astrophysical Phenomenon Hydrogen Emission Material Artifact 
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© William R. Macauley 2012

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  • William R. Macauley

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