Three Weird Things We Have Sent Into Space
Human brainwaves, a tiny museum, and cremated pets.
Considering the astronomical cost of sending anything off the planet, you might expect that space is reserved strictly for serious science. While that is mostly true, we have made room for some unusual payloads which won’t be winning any Nobel prizes, but instead say something about human nature – mainly how weird we are!
In 1977 we sent human brainwaves into space. They belonged to Ann Druyan, who worked with Carl Sagan on putting together the Voyager Golden Record. The Voyager mission saw two spacecraft fly by the gas giants and slingshot out of the solar system. Accompanying each one is a phonograph record, a kind of message in a bottle in the cosmic ocean, which paints a picture of life on Earth, through images, music and sounds.
Druyan and Sagan were the Beyoncé and Jay Z of science communication – a power couple putting together humanity’s greatest hits. They got together after working for months on the Voyager record, without so much as a date. A work-related phone conversation ended with them deciding to get married.
A few days after that fateful phone call, Druyan was hooked up to a machine which translated data from her brain into sound.
“I had this idea,” recalled Druyan, “that we should put someone’s EEG on the record. We know that EEG patterns register some changes in thought. Would it be possible, I wondered, for a highly advanced technology of several million years from now to actually decipher human thoughts?”
With the engagement so fresh, it was only natural for Druyan’s subconscious to be filled with euphoria. Though she had a script to focus her mind on culture and philosophy, she allowed a few moments at the end to meditate on love. Who knows what the aliens will make of it?
The Voyager Golden Record was by no means the first attempt to send a slice of culture into space. A lesser known detail about Apollo 12 is that it carried an entire museum to the Moon. The artist Forest “Frosty” Myers hatched a plan to include artworks by the top contemporary artists of the 1960s on a lunar mission. But with a lukewarm response from NASA, he approached an engineer who surreptitiously attached the artworks to one of the legs on the lunar module. The engineer confirmed the deed was done in a telegram two days before launch: “YOUR ON A.O.K. ALL SYSTEMS GO.”
Six drawings, one each by Myers, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, David Novros, John Chamberlain, and Claes Oldenburg, were squeezed onto a tiny ceramic tile, 19 by 13 millimetres wide. Myers named it the Moon Museum. Many of the artists based their contribution on their characteristic larger works, but Andy Warhol decided to draw his initials in the shape of a “rocket”.
“He was being the terrible bad boy.” Myers said of Warhol in an interview.
Of course, until we go back to the Moon and someone decides it’s worth taking a look, we won’t know for sure if there is a museum stuck to the Apollo 12 lunar module. The desire to send these drawings to another world seems to continue our millennia old tradition to leave a mark to say, “we were here!” If we had the chance to send a drawing to the Moon, how many of us would be tempted to play it like Andy Warhol?
Spaceflight hasn’t always ended well for animals. Laika the dog, for example, was sent into orbit with a one-way ticket to test the effects of spaceflight on living creatures. Since then, we have sent everything from cats to tortoises into space to conduct all manner of science experiments. But now, animals don’t even have to be alive to hitch a ride off the planet.
You can pay to send your pet’s remains into space. A company in America offers to launch an engraved capsule containing cremated remains as a secondary payload of an actual mission. While this might sound a little absurd, commercial ventures such as this can help to offset the cost of launching a mission into space.
If you would prefer the ashes be scattered in a more traditional sense, a Sheffield based company will launch them to the edge of space via a balloon and deposit them in the stratospheric winds. According to their website: “their remains will travel around the world before forming the seeds of clouds, falling back to Earth as raindrops and snowflakes.”
Something to think about next time you’re out in the rain!
About the Author: Hannah Baker is the Assistant Curator at the National Space Centre