The Mission

In 1972, Pioneer 10 was launched to explore Jupiter and beyond. Bolted to its antenna support was quite possibly the most ambitious piece of visual communication ever-conceived. The gold-anodized aluminum plaque designed by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan with artwork prepared by Linda Salzman Sagan serves as a cosmic greeting card communicating where, when, and who we are to scientifically educated extraterrestrials should they encounter it.

Pioneer is an expression of the vision and adventurous spirit that defines humanity at its best. With the support of Frank Drake and Linda Salzman Sagan, we are working with the original manufacturer from master engraving plates to create a historically accurate reproduction of the plaque in celebration of the 45th anniversary of the Pioneer launch on March 3, 1972.

The Creator

Duane King is a creative director and consultant based in Portland, Oregon who loves space. Duane is an Executive Member of the IADAS, the Webby Awards judging body, and in 2011, Fast Company selected him as one of the 50 Most Influential Designers in America.

Driven by curiosity, Duane’s work has been recognized by Cannes Lions, Fast Company, WIRED, The Guardian, Graphis, Industrial Designers Society of America, D&AD, The 100 Show, The Art Directors Club, TechCrunch, Engadget, The FWA, I.D. Magazine, Communication Arts, Creative Review, Computer Arts, IdN, Print and HOW Magazine.
The Diagram

The Pioneer plaque is designed to show scientifically educated inhabitants of some other star system who might intercept it millions of years from now – when Pioneer was launched, from where, and by what kind of beings.

At top left of the plaque is a schematic of the hyperfine transition of neutral atomic hydrogen – a universal ‘yardstick’ – providing a basic unit of both time and physical length throughout the physical universe. As a further size check, the binary equivalent of the decimal number 8 is shown between tote marks indicating the height of the two human figures to be compared with the scale of the spacecraft itself which is also shown in the silhouette on the plaque. The hydrogen wavelength – about 20.32 cm (8 inches) – multiplied by the binary number representing 8 alongside the woman, gives her height, namely 62.56 cm (64 inches).

The radial pattern will help other scientists locate our solar system in the galaxy. The solid bars indicate distance, with the horizontal bar denoting the distance from the Sun to the galactic center. The shorter solid bars represent direction and distances to various pulsars from our Sun, and the ticks following them are the periods of the pulsars in binary form.

Below the orientation diagram, as a further aid to identification should the spacecraft be intercepted while our Solar System is still in the galactic records, there is a diagram showing relative distances of the solar planets and identifying the ringed planet Saturn and the planet from which Pioneer originated. After accelerating past the largest planet as shown by a track, the spacecraft is depicted with its antenna pointing back to its origin on the third planet.

Finally the plaque depicts man and woman in what to humans is a characteristic gesture of friendliness but also shows how limbs can be moved and displays the important four fingers and opposing thumb. The figures and physiognomy were carefully chosen and drawn for ethnic neutrality, and no attempt is made to explain to an alien intelligence what may be mysterious differences between two physical types — man and woman.
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