Perhaps the greatest achievement in human history is the launching of the interstellar explorers, the Voyager probes. For a species that 100 years ago was taking it’s fist forays into the skies above our ability to rapidly advance the boundaries of our reach constantly amazes me.
NASA looked to a committee, chaired by the great Carl Sagan, to decide what elements of Earth and humanity should be placed on a golden record to be sent as a potential greeting to any other life that should happen to stumble upon a device that would be but a fleck of dust in the enormity of space. In fact it is so unlikely that anyone should stumble on voyage that Carl Sagan himself said:
The record is best seen as a time capsule or a symbolic statement more than a serious attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life.
In those heady days committees actually got things done without need to placate various interested parties and the op-eds in the media. So into the darkness we have sent greetings in 55 languages, details of our solar system and our DNA, music by Beethoven and Chuck Berry and scenes from our every day lives.
Can you imagine the difficulty we would have today trying to get a similarly representative disc launched?
For a start even getting a committee drawn up would be a nightmare, politicians would want to be involved which would automatically hinder the chances of anything productive and inclusive being produced. These are the same people who would rather see guns in schools than the expansion of human knowledge so to be able to come to a decision on what goes on a list would be beyond their capabilities.
Then we have the media, and let’s assume it’s NASA launching this probe, who will scrutinise every element of the message for any sign of ‘bias’ or ‘pandering to the socialists ad liberals’. If it is an American probe it will be an American message, the same as it would if Russia or China blasted this thing into space. It would not be a message from Earth it would be greetings from one of it’s fleeting states.
Military commanders would worry that we were giving away secrets that could lead to an invasion, religious groups would rail against the amount of science, and scientists would abhor any mention of faith. Imagine if Islam had any more space than Christianity? Fox News would have an aneurysm. It would become a muddle of messages diluted down to placate everyone but leaving nobody happy.
That is even if we could launch another Voyager programme.
Today we spend billions on bailing out failed institutions that create inequality and misery, because the people with the purse strings would rather not see their investments fail than exploring the universe. The Space programme and race contributed more to human civilisation than any bank ever did yet it is the first to get cut when times get tough.
So maybe the fact that we will never send another Golden Record into space is the perfect way to illustrate humanity in the early 21st Century.