Over four decades ago, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched two spacecraft designed to travel through interstellar space. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were designed to explore the outer reaches of the sun’s influence (heliosphere) and beyond. Instruments aboard have been able to send wonderful images and data about the outer planets of our Solar System; both are now exploring the vast expanse of space between stars.
Along with scientific instruments, an important artifact was stowed on these spaceships… a 12-inch, gold-plated phonograph record of pictures, music, sounds from Earth and greetings in 55 languages. The task of compiling and assembling these greetings was given to distinguished astronomer and science communicator Dr. Carl Sagan of Cornell University and his wife, artist and writer, Linda Salzman Sagan.
With no specific instructions about content, those speaking for Earth were asked to be brief and extend greetings to extraterrestrial beings that might encounter Voyager. Although bombarded by a collection of science fiction/horror dramas that portrayed beings from outer space as aggressive, cannibalistic, antagonistic and dangerous (e.g. War of the Worlds, It Came from Outer Space, etc.), a common theme of peaceful coexistence is evident when reviewing the messages. Sentiments of “peace”, “friendship” and “goodwill” are common.
In this period of turmoil and civil unrest, it is reassuring to examine the fundamentals of humankind and find common themes that point toward united humanity. Although fear-engendering semantics can inflame and alter perceptions, at our core, people are more inclined toward cooperation rather than confrontation. Conflict arises when we are challenged by irrational and rigid circumstances that rely on coercion rather than compliance through agreement. Fear of loss of control can stoke the fires of anger and injustice to the point of combustion amid slogans that convey a plethora of meanings depending on the messenger and audience.
The current Black Lives Matter (BLM) upheaval is an example of extreme prejudicial behavior that permeates our society and has erupted from a confining veneer of dysfunctional societal normalcy. Anger and angst are responses to both overt and subtle messages of division, repression and fear in direct contradiction of Voyager epistles sent to the stars. The BLM movement is a reflection of a common desire that craves to be treated as a whole community rather than disparate fragments. A symphony of voices using phrases such as “defund” aspire to the best aspects of community – support and safety without fear.
How to achieve this in the midst of a moral and organizational crisis is the question. Can people focus on shared strengths and seek solutions based on common goals and aspirations rather than contentious rhetoric and destruction? The cliché “world peace” is often considered vapid because it is so universal and therefore, taken for granted. Voyager 1 is now traveling through interstellar space with a message of peace and harmony between the inhabitants of Earth and anyone else out there. It’s time to recognize and act on our shared humanity. How else can we prepare to meet someone who answers our interstellar call?