In 1972, a journalist named Eric Burgess was touring an aerospace company with a group of fellow science correspondents when he had an unprecedented thought.
The group had just gotten a glimpse of the Pioneer 10, the spacecraft poised to become the first to leave our solar system, weeks before its interstellar journey.
If there’s a chance the probe will meet extraterrestrial life, Burgess thought, it should carry a missive from all of mankind–some sort of greeting that would also convey the message of life on Earth to intelligent life outside of it.
Carl Sagan, then the director of the laboratory of planetary studies at Cornell University recruited the designer Frank Drake and his first wife, the artist and writer Linda Salzman Sagan, and the group pitched the idea to NASA, promising to get their message done in time for the launch of Pioneer 10 and its counterpart Pioneer 11.
In two weeks, the team had to boil all of humanity down into a simple line drawing, engrave it onto a set of identical golden plaques, and bolt them to NASA’s two Pioneer spacecraft.
The so-called “Pioneer plaques” rocketed into space and beyond our solar system in 1973.