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Why We Shouldn't Hide Our Problems from ET
by Douglas A. Vakoch, Ph.D. (vakoch_at_seti_dot_org)

For nearly 50 years, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has scanned the heavens with radio telescopes for signs of alien technology. At the same time, scientists have painstakingly crafted messages to send in reply. When NASA launched its Voyager missions in 1977, for example, both spacecraft carried audio recordings depicting the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

But never have those messages truly represented all of humanity. On 15 May [2009] that will change as the SETI Institute launches a project to collect messages from people around the world. Though there are currently no plans to transmit these messages into space, the project aims to foster a global discussion about whether we should send more than symbolic messages to the stars, and if so, what we should say.

The standard wisdom in interstellar diplomacy is to avoid controversy - a sometimes elusive goal. In the early 1970s, NASA attached plaques to two Pioneer spacecraft etched with basic mathematics, science and line drawings of a man and woman. Some complained the space agency was sending "smut into space", with the naked figures revealing more than they deemed proper for a first encounter...

Editor's Note: this article first appeared in New Scientist magazine, 18 April 2009. This excerpt is used here by the kind permission of New Scientist and the author. The balance of the article may be seen at

Readers may post their interstellar message suggestions here.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.

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