Friday, 2 December 2016

The last artist

In the early 1970s NASA launched two Pioneer spacecraft, the first vessels to leave our solar system. Each carried a plaque offering an elementary rough guide to Earth and its inhabitants. Here it is:

Image © NASA

The idea came from one Eric Burgess, who mentioned to to Carl Sagan, the American Patrick Moore (not that Moore could be said to have any equivalent, anywhere, throughout history). Sagan and Frank Drake drafted a design and the final artwork was created by Linda Salzman Sagan (born 1940), who was then married to Sagan.

Pioneer 10 was launched, with a plaque attached on March 2, 1972, and Pioneer 11 followed a year later.

It's a sobering thought that when our planet is reduced to a cinder (in the increasingly foreseeable future) and all trace of civilisation erased, this artist alone will represent all humanity to any civilisation that takes an interest in this 'moist, blue-green ball' (in Vonnegut's lovely phrase)

The design came in for plenty of criticism at the time - that the woman is represented as compliant and submissive; that she has no genitals; that the couple are too caucasian, and so on. What would such a plaque look like today? The Donald and his wife Melanoma Trump, his stubby little forefinger raised, pouting petulantly, travelling forever through cold and infinite space? 

It's a  coincidence that the plaque features briefly in Paul Stanbridge's brilliant debut novel Forbidden Line. As it happens I'd drafted this blog some months before I read the novel (published yesterday), but if today's Salvete has any value it's to remind you that this is one of the books you have to read before the balloon goes up.

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