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Messages to Mars and Beyond

The Science Show - ABC Radio National | 15 August 2009


The public can now post goodwill messages that will be transmitted to the nearest Earth-like planet outside our Solar System likely to support life. Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research entered the first message at the 2009 launch of National Science Week at Questacon in Canberra.

Robyn Williams: So with National Science Week upon us, are you, like Kim Carr, standing by to send your message into outer space? Really remote sensing! This is the minister on Wednesday.

Kim Carr: Science Week is the occasion whereby scientists reach out to Australians, explain the great wonders of science. It's an opportunity to engage with young people, old people, to go forward and ask people what are the big questions we are dealing with and what opportunities there are for us to answer some of those big questions.

Journalist: Can you tell me about the interstellar messages?

Kim Carr: This is an opportunity, once again, to highlight the value of the work that we are undertaking. This is work that's been done with NASA, it's a chance for all Australians, once again, to put their messages forward and to send them off into space. It's a chance, once again, for us to engage with the community.

Journalist: Can you explain where the messages are going?

Kim Carr: There're going to other parts of our galaxy. There's a chance here for us to be able ask the question 'are there other forms of life out there?', one of those big issues that confront the scientific community.

Journalist: And what did you say?

Kim Carr: I explain that we have here a great people, we're a wonderful culture, and we have an opportunity to share our dreams with the rest of the universe.

Jonathan Nally: Science minister Kim Carr in Canberra on Wednesday. Recently on The Science Show I explained that if you become really famous, there's a chance you could have a crater on the Moon named after you. But now, there's an even easier way to achieve interstellar immortality.

A new web site set up by Cosmos magazine for National Science Week,, will let you send a message sent to the stars. No, not the Hollywood variety, I mean a real star system called Gliese 581 which is about 20 light-years away. This system has a planet, which, so far, is considered to be the most promising candidate for where the conditions might be right for life to exist.

NASA will take all the messages and beam them toward the planet using its giant dishes just outside Canberra. But remember, because Gliese 581 is 20 light-years away, it'll take 20 years for the signals to get there, and at least 20 years for a reply to come from anyone who might be listening.

But if you can't wait that long, don't despair. There is another way to send something of yourself into space. NASA is currently collecting names to be put on a special microchip aboard its Mars Science Laboratory mission, due for launch next year. Around a quarter of a million people have already signed up, including about 10,000 Aussies. If you want to be among them, you'll find a link on The Science Show's web site.

And my message for Gliese 581? “If you see the Robinson family, please give them directions on how to get home. But don't worry about that Dr Smith fellow, you can keep him.”

Robyn Williams: Jonathan Nally, lost in space, as ever.


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