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

  • William R. Macauley

Abstract

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).

Keywords

Visual Representation Radio Telescope Astrophysical Phenomenon Hydrogen Emission Material Artifact 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Carl Sagan, Cosmos: The Story of Cosmic Evolution, Science and Civilisation, London: Abacus, 1980, 325;Google Scholar
  2. Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987, 248 (emphasis in original). I am grateful to my PhD supervisor, David Kirby, for his constant encouragement and astute observations on earlier versions of this chapter. I would like to thank April Gage, Glenn Bugos and Jack Boyd at the NASA Ames History Office for their hospitality and advice on archival issues. I also wish to thank Hans Mark and Linda Salzman Sagan for their valuable assistance and points of clarification, and Mike Lynch and Alexander Geppert for their support and helpful comments on an earlier version of this chapter.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    See the collected papers in Carl Sagan, ed., Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1973;Google Scholar
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  5. and Philip Morrison, John Billingham and John Wolfe, eds, The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), Washington, DC: NASA, 1977, which feature contemporary theories on interstellar messages and specific applications of the term.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    See John Heilbron, The Dilemmas of an Upright Man: Max Planck as Spokesman for German Science, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986, 50–4, regarding Max Planck’s‘universal constants’;Google Scholar
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  8. 7.
    See Grant Malcolm, ed., Multidisciplinary Approaches to Representation and Interpretation, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2004;Google Scholar
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  12. and Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edn, Cheshire: Graphics Press, 2001.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    See, for instance, Steven J. Dick, The Biological Universe: The Twentieth-Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate and the Limits of Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996;Google Scholar
  14. Robert S. Kraemer, Beyond the Moon: A Golden Age of Planetary Exploration, 1971–1978, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000;Google Scholar
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  16. Mark Wolverton, The Depths of Space: The Story of the Pioneer Probes, Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2004;Google Scholar
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  18. 40.
    Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, ‘The Image of Objectivity,’ Representations 40 (Fall 1992), 81–128;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. see also Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity, New York: Zone Books, 2007.Google Scholar

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© William R. Macauley 2012

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  • William R. Macauley

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