But never have those messages truly represented all of humanity. On 15 May  that will change as the SETI Institute launches a project to collect messages from people around the world. Though there are currently no plans to transmit these messages into space, the project aims to foster a global discussion about whether we should send more than symbolic messages to the stars, and if so, what we should say.
The standard wisdom in interstellar diplomacy is to avoid controversy - a sometimes elusive goal. In the early 1970s, NASA attached plaques to two Pioneer spacecraft etched with basic mathematics, science and line drawings of a man and woman. Some complained the space agency was sending "smut into space", with the naked figures revealing more than they deemed proper for a first encounter...
Editor's Note: this article first appeared in New Scientist magazine, 18 April 2009. This excerpt is used here by the kind permission of New Scientist and the author. The balance of the article may be seen at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16981.
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