4The Voyager Golden Record
Back when space exploration was still a thing (1977, to be exact), NASA launched the two Voyager spacecraft on their mission to explore the far reaches of our solar system. On board were some quite elaborate messages that could survive to be found by someone (or some thing) a long way away and several thousand years from now.
The idea was inspired by the plaques that had been included on the earlier Pioneer spacecraft, which ignored everything we've learned from every sci-fi movie ever by pinpointing the exact location of our tiny little planet for any advanced alien species who might stumble across them.
"Attention aliens: We're right here. Also, we're naked and defenseless."
With the help of a committee led by Carl Sagan, NASA came up with the Voyager Golden Record -- a phonograph record constructed of gold-plated copper and stored inside an aluminum cover electroplated with uranium-238 (so that the discoverer could determine its age). The cover featured pictorial diagrams describing the location of Earth, the speed at which to play the record and how to decode its contents. No word on whether it also included a pictorial explanation of the concept of "yard saling" to find a record player to play it on.
"Step 3: Offer half the asking price."
Copies of the Golden Record were included on both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, which are still going strong well past their intended lifespan. Voyager 1 is expected to reach the nearest star on its trajectory in just 40 years. What's that? Oh, sorry -- what we meant to say was 40 thousand years.
So What Message Was Worth All This Trouble to Send?
The Voyager Golden Record was basically an attempt to cram everything interesting about 1970s Earth into a bottle, and then drop that infinitesimal bottle into the mind-bogglingly vast ocean of space.
"So do we apologize for Zardoz now or when they come to destroy us?"
The record contains 115 images depicting the variety of life and culture on Earth, as well as a selection of nature sounds, spoken greetings from various world leaders and examples of the kind of music people on Earth listen to. How a group of aliens with no context are supposed to distinguish the nature sounds from the spoken greetings from the music is a mystery. We have a feeling the tentacled travelers from Ursa Minor will show up 500 centuries from now, having reverse engineered our language based on the assumption that Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" is Earth language for "If you find this thing floating in space, please bring it back for a small cash reward."
Either that or they send back a Brian Eno remix.
3The Apollo 11 Goodwill Messages
When the astronauts of Apollo 11 made their famous trek to the moon, they carried along some souvenirs for our lunar neighbor to remember them by: an American flag, a plaque inscribed with the statement "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind," and page after page of messages of goodwill from people all over the world.
And then we declared world peace and no one died ever again.
But you obviously can't carry a huge stack of paper with you to the moon -- the pages would get all floaty as soon as you let go of them. So to solve this conundrum, NASA developed the Apollo 11 goodwill messages. Those pages upon pages of paper letters were each photographed, reduced 200 times to a size much smaller than the head of a pin and etched onto a silicon disc about the size of a 50-cent piece via the same process still used to construct the circuit boards present in all your personal electronic devices today.
And then that was shrunk and hidden in the body of a flea, and then they lost the flea. And we've forgotten our point.
At the top of the disc is the inscription "Goodwill messages from around the world brought to the moon by the astronauts of Apollo 11." Around the rim is the statement "From Planet Earth -- July 1969." The disc now rests in a protective aluminum capsule on the moon's Sea of Tranquility, waiting for some future lunar explorer to stumble across it and wish he had a microscope so he could read the damn thing.
So What Message Was Worth All This Trouble to Send?
The microscopic statements carried on the disc are from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and from the leaders of 73 other countries around the world. Some of the statements are handwritten, some are typed and many are in the author's native language. An especially ornate message from the Vatican is signed by Pope Paul VI.
"Dear aliens, you don't exist. Also, you're going to hell. Regards, Pope."
The messages from foreign leaders overwhelmingly congratulate the United States and its astronauts on their accomplishments, and the overall sentiment is that the moon landing would usher in the beginning of a new era of brotherhood and peace among all nations of the world. Prophetic, right?
But buried deep within all the "congratulations this" and "peace on Earth that," we'd have to say that this gem of a snippet from the statement of William Tubman, president of Liberia, is the one thing on there that really captured our interest:
"I ask them to bear this message to the inhabitants of the moon if they find any there."
"All those other countries are dicks. Give your lasers to Liberia."
Yeah, we're totally with Tubman on this one. World peace is a nice sentiment and all, but we like to imagine that the Moonlings are up there playing heads or tails with this thing to see who gets to laser our asses first.