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Shortly Before His Death, Carl Sagan Left A Message For The First Humans On Mars

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Posted On: 2024-03-23 - 3 min read

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The message is now resting on the surface of Mars.

Much beloved astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan once recorded a message, for future astronauts setting foot on the planet Mars.

Sagan was a big advocate for exploration of the Red Planet. Co-founder of The Planetary Society, he believed we should go to the planet to study it as an analog for our own planet, to search for potential signs of life, and simply because of the romance of exploring Mars.

In 1996, shortly before he died of pneumonia on December 20, Sagan recorded a message for future astronauts who have made it to Mars.

"I'm Carl Sagan. This is a place where I often work in Ithaca, New York, near Cornell University. Maybe you can hear, in the background, a 200-foot [60-meter] waterfall, right nearby, which is probably – I would guess – a rarity on Mars, even in times of high technology," Sagan says in the recording.

"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century, particularly with respect to Mars. The scientists make a finding, it inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited and inspired to become scientists to find out more about Mars, which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science. And that sequence has played a major role in our present ability to get to Mars. It certainly was an important factor in the life of Robert Goddard, the American rocketry pioneer who, I think more than anyone else, paved the way for our actual ability to go to Mars. And it certainly played a role in my scientific development."

"I don't know why you're on Mars. Maybe you're there because we've recognized we have to carefully move small asteroids around to avert the possibility of one impacting the Earth with catastrophic consequences, and, while we're up in near-Earth space, it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to Mars."

"Or, maybe we're on Mars because we recognize that if there are human communities on many worlds, the chances of us being rendered extinct by some catastrophe on one world is much less. Or maybe we're on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there, the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Or maybe we're on Mars because we have to be, because there's a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process. We come after all, from hunter-gatherers, and for 99.9 percent of our tenure on Earth, we've been wanderers. And the next place to wander to is Mars. But whatever the reason you're on Mars is, I'm glad you're there. And I wish I was with you."

The recording, thanks to The Planetary Society which he co-founded, was sent to Mars, arriving on May 25 2008 after hitching a ride onboard NASA's Phoenix lander. It remains there on the surface on an archival silica-glass mini-DVD, which the society hopes will last hundreds, or potentially thousands, of years.

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