Just a week shy of 40 years ago, humanity’s emissary to the stars left this planet for a journey through the solar system. The twin Voyager spacecraft carry a shimmering golden record which, if placed on a phonograph, will play the sound of laughter and language and life on Earth. The record was accompanied by a message from the president.
“We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit the planet Earth. We human beings are still divided into nation-states, but these states are rapidly becoming a single global civilization,” President Jimmy Carter wrote.
The record and the spacecraft are likely to survive a billion years into our future, Carter’s letter continued. The Voyagers will sail through interstellar space long after we are gone, long after Earth is gone, long into futures unimagined. If someone intercepts one, the president said, the message they should hear is this:
“We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe.”
The journey of the Voyagers, like the landing of the Mars rovers or the death spiral of the Cassini spacecraft, still occasions poetic calls to a higher cosmic purpose. This is one reason political leaders like to talk about space. It represents the future itself, and the last place to chart something new, to explore the way our forebears did, to follow the urge written into our foundational ethos. President Trump does not talk much about science, but when he does, he invokes space.