Dear Space Aliens: Hello! Love, Jimmy Carter

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Oct. 9 2013 11:00 AM

Dear Space Aliens: Hello! Love, Jimmy Carter

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

On a cold evening in 1969, a peanut farmer was standing outside a Georgia restaurant when he noticed a mysterious pulsating light in the western sky. “It was the darndest thing I've ever seen,” he recalled seven years later, during his successful presidential campaign. “One thing's for sure, I'll never make fun of people who say they've seen unidentified objects in the sky. If I become President, I'll make every piece of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public.” Indeed, Carter filed his own report of the incident with the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma City (read it here).

Even though Carter later came to believe that what he called “space people” hadn’t paid Earth a visit, there’s still a possibility that his words might visit them. In the summer of 1977, he penned a three-paragraph letter to accompany the Voyager spacecraft. Today, that letter is travelling beyond our Solar System at speeds of eleven miles a second. It is the first letter in history to reach extrasolar space.

Advertisement

Carter was not the only human to send a message on Voyager—the “Golden Record” stowed onboard contained greetings in languages ranging from Sumerian to Welsh, as well as short speeches from UN delegates interwoven with whale sounds. (“My dear friends in outer space,” one delegate intones over a collage of cetacean murmurs, “as you probably know, my country is situated on the west coast of the continent of Africa, a land mass more or less in the shape of a question mark.”)

Yet Carter’s letter was the longest message sent by any earthling, and the one that most fully evoked the utopian mission of Voyager. “We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit the planet Earth,” he wrote. “We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations.” As I wrote recently on the new history website The Appendix, Carter was quite possibly inspired to this flight of fancy by the theatrical release of Star Wars three weeks earlier. But perhaps he was simply waxing idealistic, touched by the thought of writing the first interstellar letter in human history.

To read more histories of people and artifacts who go off the map, check out the newest issue of The Appendix.

Carter letter

NASA.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
Behold
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Honcho Says Celebs Who Keep Nude Photos in the Cloud Are “Stupid”
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 2 2014 11:16 AM Some McDonald's Monopoly Properties Matter More
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 2 2014 11:07 AM Mapping 1890 Manhattan's Crazy-Quilt of Immigrant Neighborhoods
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:36 AM How Bad Will Adam Sandler’s Netflix Movies Be?
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM Surge Pricing Is Not Price Gouging
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?