Inscribing Scientific Knowledge: Interstellar Communication, NASA’s Pioneer Plaque and Contact with Cultures of the Imagination, 1971–72
In the second half of the twentieth century, humanity sought to propagate knowledge beyond the solar system through radio messages and artifacts attached to spacecraft. The need to communicate knowledge and meaning using non-linguistic means posed major challenges for scientists, because the unspecified recipient must be assumed to have had no prior contact with humankind. This chapter analyzes sociocultural aspects of interstellar communication and focuses on key issues regarding conception, design and production of two distinctive interstellar messages – NASA’s Pioneer plaque (1972–73) and Voyager record (1977). It explores not only the role of visualization in knowledge production, but also the ways in which we relate to knowledge as a valuable resource and convey theoretical or practical understanding to cultures of the imagination.