Site Design: How Many Slaves Work for You? In 1972, a journalist named Eric Burgess was touring an aerospace company with a group of fellow science correspondents when he had an unprecedented thought. The group had just gotten a glimpse of the Pioneer 10, the spacecraft poised to become the first to leave our solar system, weeks before its interstellar journey. If there’s a chance the probe will meet extraterrestrial life, Burgess thought, it should carry a missive from all of mankind–some sort of greeting that would also convey the message of life on Earth to intelligent life outside of it. Burgess knew that he would never be able to convince NASA of the idea. But he did know someone who could: Carl Sagan, then the director of the laboratory of planetary studies at Cornell University. In turn, Sagan recruited the designer Frank Drake and his first wife, the artist and writer Linda Salzman Sagan, and the group pitched the idea to NASA, promising to get their message done in time for the launch of Pioneer 10 and its counterpart Pioneer 11. In two weeks, the team had to boil all of humanity down into a simple line drawing, engrave it onto a set of identical golden plaques, and bolt them to NASA’s two Pioneer spacecraft. The so-called “Pioneer plaques” rocketed into space and beyond our solar system in 1973. Now, one enthusiast is crowdfunding a series of replicas–and rekindling interest in this completely unique piece of information design. “I’ve always loved the meaning behind those plaques–that it was this greeting card from Earth in simple line art, a message in a bottle thrown into the stars,” says Portland-based graphic designer Duane King. King has been obsessed with the Pioneer plaques since seeing Sagan talk about them on Cosmos as a kid in the 1970s. He even bought up the “Pioneer10” domain name 17 years ago. Over the last seven months, he’s been working on producing exact replicas of the Pioneer plaque–which can today be ordered on Kickstarter. For King, the project is fascinating for both its unimaginably expansive scope and its incredible specificity as a piece of information design. It’s meant to explain humanity to the rest of the universe in a visual and mathematical language that anyone, or anything, can decipher using only the drawing. Recreating the plaque started out as a personal project. NASA’s archives of the original master templates for the plaque are public domain, and they include every bit of useful information: the materials used, the exact dimensions of the design, the depth of the engraving, the thickness of the plaque. There are photos of the plaques online, yet the replica that exists on Earth is part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “There was something kind of magical to think there is one 14 billion kilometers from Earth in one direction and one 14 billion kilometers from Earth in the other, one in the Smithsonian, and one on my couch,” says King. [Photo: courtesy Duane King] King’s recreations are painstakingly researched. After watching a documentary on the plaques, King realized that the engraver, Ponciano Barbosa, was still alive–so he Googled him. On Google Street View, King could see in the window of Barbosa’s trophy shop and a little sign that read, “Home of the Pioneer Plaque.” After reaching out to him, King learned that the engraver had made samples of the plaque that were still in his shop. Together, they produced an exact replica of the Pioneer plaque, engraved into a plaque made of the same gold-anodized aluminum as the originals. King saw an opportunity in the replica–a piece of space travel history slender enough to fit into an envelope and ship to likeminded space geeks…

Like to keep reading?

This article first appeared on If you'd like to keep reading, follow the white rabbit.

View Full Article

Leave a Reply