Making a Mark: Surprising Things We’ve Launched Into Space
Even now, space remains a vast, largely unexplored frontier. Something about its vastness not only encourages us to voyage deeper into our solar system, but it also inspires this very human need to be known — to be heard, or seen. Maybe not as individuals, but as a whole.
Earlier this year, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched some peculiar items into orbit. Most famously, Musk’s first rocket carried with it a Tesla Roadster and a mannequin "driver" dubbed Starman — which have recently passed beyond the outer bounds of Mars — and, less famously, about 36,000 worms, which have similar muscle structures to our own. One of those things carries with it a certain amount of ego, while the other has (obvious) ties to scientific research. Both seemed important enough to send into orbit.
Long before SpaceX’s endeavors, some pretty remarkable, remarkably ordinary and remarkably bizarre items were sent or transmitted into space. The recordings, artifacts, pop culture totems and art objects that have risen above the Kármán line all hold cultural significance but, at the same time, represent very different ways to leave one’s mark.
The Force Is With Pop Culture
While some of the items sent into space hold a more practical cultural or scientific value, there’s no denying that popular culture is a significant part of any Earthling’s experience. Instead of transmitting a moment of historical significance into the aether, a Doritos commercial was sent a remarkable 42 light years away — to the Big Dipper, because chip lovers can’t resist a good pun.
Recordings Lend Voices to the Vacuum
As we learned from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), in space no one can hear you scream. Still, that didn’t deter NASA from trying. In 2008, the organization beamed the Beatles song "Across the Universe" into the stars via its Deep Space Network. Traveling at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, the song will reach the North Star (Polaris), roughly 431 light years away from Earth.
Art Becomes “Lost in Space”
In 1972, Charles Duke acted as the lunar-module pilot aboard Apollo 16 and became of one of 12 folks to walk on the moon’s surface. Apart from his footprints, Duke wanted to leave a real impression and placed a photograph of his family on the surface. The deeply personal memento underscores this universal desire not only to connect with others, but to be understood by them — to leave a legacy that extends beyond Earth.