NASA’s upcoming mission to an ice-covered moon will include a message exchanged between two aquatic worlds.

Scheduled for October 2024, NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft, bound for Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa, will transport a laser-etched message celebrating humanity’s affinity with water. This homage to previous NASA missions featuring similar messages was crafted with the assistance of Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence International (METI), a scientific entity dedicated to transmitting potent radio messages to potential extraterrestrial civilizations.

I, serving as the president of METI International, collaborated with fellow linguists Sheri Wells-Jensen and Laura Buszard-Welcher, both members of our board of directors, in designing the message aboard Clipper. Together, we curated audio recordings spanning 103 languages and devised methods to translate them into visually represented waveforms. These waveforms were then meticulously etched into a metal plate, safeguarding the spacecraft’s delicate electronics from Jupiter’s harsh radiation, by NASA colleagues.

Additionally, I conceived another component of the message, illustrating the wavelengths of water’s constituents, recognizing the pivotal role of water in the quest for intelligent extraterrestrial life. While the practice of etching messages onto spacecraft is not novel, Clipper’s message continues a tradition dating back decades, initiated by renowned astronomer Carl Sagan.

In the early 1970s, the Pioneer spacecraft, en route to Jupiter and Saturn, carried metal plaques inscribed with scientific and visual messages. Subsequently, in 1977, the Voyager probes, journeying past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, bore gold-plated copper phonograph records containing tutorials, music, images, and greetings from Earth, encapsulating a diverse array of languages and cultures.

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