Mars message decoded: What did Carl Sagan say to future Martians?

Legendary astronomer Carl Sagan's message wasn't just a greeting; it was a peek into his world
An undated image of legendary astronomer Carl Sagan. — Literary Hub
An undated image of legendary astronomer Carl Sagan. — Literary Hub

Legendary astronomer Carl Sagan, a champion for Martian exploration and co-founder of The Planetary Society, had a special message for the future! Just before his passing in 1996, Sagan recorded a greeting for the very first humans who would set foot on Mars.

This heartfelt message hitched a ride to the Red Planet in 2008 aboard NASA's Phoenix lander. The tiny DVD now rests on Martian soil, hopefully waiting for its audience for millennia to come. In the recording, Sagan introduces himself and shares a glimpse into his work at the time, a personal touch across time and space.

Sagan's message wasn't just a greeting; it was a peek into his world. He introduces himself, mentioning his work in Ithaca, a place likely very different from Mars.

With a touch of humor, he even points out the background sound of a waterfall, a rarity he playfully doubts exists on Mars, even in its most technologically advanced future.

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The message then delves into a theme Sagan cherished: the beautiful interplay between science and science fiction.

He describes how scientific discoveries spark the imaginations of science fiction writers, who in turn inspire future generations of scientists to explore Mars further. This cycle, he suggests, has been fueling our fascination with the Red Planet for over a century.

He then said that he is unaware of "why you're on Mars," before citing various theories.

Sagan suggested: "Maybe you're there because we've recognised we have to carefully move small asteroids around to avert the possibility of one impacting the Earth with catastrophic consequences, and, while we're up in near-Earth space, it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to Mars.”

He then details another reason that it could be because "we recognise that if there are human communities on many worlds, the chances of us being rendered extinct by some catastrophe on one world is much less."

"Or maybe we're on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there, the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time," he theorises, adding: "Or maybe we're on Mars because we have to be, because there's a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process.

"We come after all, from hunter-gatherers, and for 99.9 percent of our tenure on Earth, we've been wanderers. And the next place to wander to is Mars. But whatever the reason you're on Mars is, I'm glad you're there. And I wish I was with you."