The voyage of Voyager

In which we send a message to the stars.

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?
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Why science matters

In which it is worth spending money to advance our knowledge.

A fridge with a pre-iPhone camera took a picture of a rock today.

How will this benefit me? Is it really important? Don’t we have better things to spend money on? These are a few of the arguments you’ll end up hearing about it, but flying past the planet (not in my name deGrasse Tyson) Pluto matters.

The best thing about modern science breakthroughs are just how far beyond the comprehension of the layman they now are. We have passed the territory of explaining why apples fall or we look a bit like apes and we are now in the realm of sub-atomic discovery. The type that requires years of intense, and to some expensive, research.

This is not science that can be made fun of, it’s not the kind of story that newspapers like about the tensile strength of a dunked biscuit, it is proper and hard science. It requires slingshots around planets to be able to direct a piece of metal towards a rock smaller than the moon millions of miles away (think how hard it is to throw a ball of paper in a bin across a room).

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