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The Pioneer plaques are a pair of gold-anodized aluminium plaques which were placed on board the 1972 Pioneer 10 and 1973 Pioneer 11 spacecraft, featuring a pictorial message, in case either Pioneer 10 or 11 is intercepted by extraterrestrial life. The plaques show the nude figures of a human male and female along with several symbols that are designed to provide information about the origin of the spacecraft.
The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft were the first human-built objects to achieve escape velocity from the Solar System. The plaques were attached to the spacecraft's antenna support struts in a position that would shield them from erosion by interstellar dust.
The original idea, that the Pioneer spacecraft should carry a message from mankind, was first mentioned by Eric Burgess when he visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, during the Mariner 9 mission. He approached Carl Sagan, who had lectured about communication with extraterrestrial intelligences at a conference in Crimea.
Sagan was enthusiastic about the idea of sending a message with the Pioneer spacecraft. NASA agreed to the plan and gave him three weeks to prepare a message. Together with Frank Drake he designed the plaque, and the artwork was prepared by Sagan's then wife Linda Salzman Sagan.
Material: 6061 T6 gold-anodized aluminum
Width: 229 mm (9 inches)
Height: 152 mm (6 inches)
Thickness: 1.27 mm (0.05 inch)
Mean depth of engraving: 0.381 millimeters (381 µm) (0.015 inch)
Mass: approx. 0.120 kilograms (120 g) (4.2 oz)
- In the Wii U title, Xenoblade Chronicles X, the plaque is seen in the opening cut scene, damaged and floating in midspace, before one of the alien ships that later approaches Earth.
- In the science fiction film Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the plaque's diagram is fleetingly shown during Spock's mindmeld with V'ger, a transformed NASA space probe, Voyager 6. This style of plaque was not used in the two actual NASA probes in the Voyager program.
- In the science fiction film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the plaque is shown attached to a Pioneer probe floating in space—just before the probe is intercepted and destroyed by a bored Klingon ship captain, who scoffs "Shooting space garbage is no test of a warrior's mettle." However the plaque is erroneously depicted as facing outwards rather than inwards.
- In the Star Trek novel Federation, a character mentions that humans had shown copies of the plaque to several alien races they encountered, but none had been able to decode it.
- In "The Message," an episode of the science fiction series The Outer Limits, a deaf woman was featured receiving alien signals through her cochlear implant, prompting her to write out Xs, 1s, and 0s on paper. When put together, the Xs turned into the images of the man and woman from the plaque, along with an extraterrestrial humanoid raising a hand in a peaceful gesture.
- On her album United States Live, American performance artist Laurie Anderson contemplates extraterrestrials finding the plaque and asks "do you think that they will think his arm is permanently attached in this position?"
- In the Futurama episode "Godfellas," the robot Bender finds himself doomed to drift through space, during which time he etches a modified version of the Pioneer plaque, with himself towering menacingly over the human figures, so that "When I'm found in a million years, people will know what the score was."
- In Buck Rogers season 1, episode 15 "Ardala Returns," Princess Ardala constructs a fake probe (allegedly launched in 1996) that utilizes a copy of the plaque in order to trick Buck into thinking the probe was from his own time period — the distant past.
- In the L. Ron Hubbard novel Battlefield Earth, it is mentioned by the principal alien character that his race's conquest of Earth was made possible by their discovery of a space probe "that gave full directions to the place, had pictures of man on it and everything".
- In "Beware My Cheating Bart" (18th episode of Season 23) of The Simpsons, the plaque was briefly shown at the end of the episode. It was depicted with an extraterrestrial holding the plaque upside down, obviously confused by its strange depictions.
- The plaque is used as the artwork for the album Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre and for Accept the Signal by Regular Fries.
- A drawing which bears a strong likeness to the one depicted in the plaque was used as the artwork for Norwegian avant-garde metal band Arcturus' album Sideshow Symphonies.
- A character in Kamen Rider Gaim uses a package containing language dictionaries and a modified version of the plaque to later communicate with an other-dimensional sentient race.
- In the TV show Eureka, on episode 5 of season 2 (Duck Duck Goose), the plaque is shown as part of the debris that lands on Earth.
- In the TV show The Big Bang Theory, on episode 21 of season 8 (The Communication Deterioration), the plaque is mentioned when they are discussing ideas about sending a message to alien races in space.
- In the video game by Paradox Development Studio, Stellaris, one of the scientific missions discovers the plaque on an alien world in the distant future.
- The Pioneer plaque appears in the booklet of David Bowie's 2016 album Blackstar, on the page for the song "Girl Loves Me".
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