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Monday, May 19, 2008
Scientists are sending a DVD to Mars. It is due to arrive on the surface of the Red Planet on May 25, which is next Sunday.
Now hang on a minute, I hear you ask. What if Martians don't have a DVD player? What if they are still using video tapes? What if they haven't progressed past Super 8 movie reels?
Well, scientists have taken that into account. The DVD is made of tough stuff that will make it playable for at least 500 years, which they reckon should be enough time even for the most primitive form of life, such as a single-cell bacterium or an American Idol judge, to build a DVD player.
Now I know you think I am making this up, but I'm not. They really have sent a DVD 680 million kilometers to Mars.
Scientists spent months making the disk, which opens with a greeting to Martians. "Let me introduce myself to you," it says.
"I am Peter Smith, the principal investigator of the Phoenix mission funded by NASA. My father, Hugh Smith, was born in 1902, an era when there was no radio or recorded music or television."
I'm not exactly sure why it starts with this statement, but I suspect Smith believes the sympathetic Martians will immediately use some form of Intergalactic Paypal to help with his funding challenges.
Smith then admits that Martians might not be able to understand the disk. "We will have no common language," he says, in the language that they cannot understand. This reminds me of the safety card on airlines which says: "If you cannot read this, notify the flight attendant."
Also on the disk is the radio version of HG Wells' War of the Worlds, a story in which Martians try to take over the planet Earth, but are defeated.
I can only deduce that this has been cleverly included to stop them trying to do the same thing again. "Curses!" the Martians will say. "Apparently we tried to invade them before but we failed."
There are also messages from dead humans. There is an interview with my old friend the late Arthur C Clarke, filmed at his home in Sri Lanka.
And there's a message from the late science writer Carl Sagan. He recorded it at his beautiful house in Ithaca, New York, which is famed for its 60-meter waterfall.
Sagan greets the Martians and says: "Maybe you can hear in the background a 200-foot tall waterfall, which is probably, I would guess, a rarity on Mars."
Sagan is on pretty safe ground making such a claim, as there is no water on Mars. One wonders what was going through his mind when he chose to make this statement. "If people on earth are green with jealousy about my 200-foot waterfall, what about those poor schmucks on Mars, who don't even have running water?!"
The latest space probes have reported that Mars is basically a large, icy plain with virtually no signs of intelligent life. No, wait, that's Canada.
But Mars sounds pretty much the same as Canada, only with better nightlife.
Anyway, the DVD will arrive on the Red Planet at the weekend. I suspect pirate copies will be on sale in most Asian cities by Friday night.
If you think that DVD sounds dull, check out the stuff at our columnist's home: www.vittachi.com
The Phoenix DVD
Attached to the deck of the lander is "The Phoenix DVD", compiled by the Planetary Society. The disc contains Visions of Mars, a multimedia collection of literature and art about the Red Planet. Works include the text of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (and its infamous radio broadcast by Orson Welles), Percival Lowell's Mars as the Abode of Life with a map of his proposed canals, Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, and Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Mars. There are also messages directly addressed to future Martian visitors or settlers from, among others, Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. In the Fall of 2006, The Planetary Society collected a quarter million names submitted through the internet and placed them on the disc, which claims, on the front, to be "the first library on Mars".