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

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

Should the United States Grant Asylum to Victims of Domestic Violence?

The Apple Watch Will Make Everyone Around You Just a Little Worse Off

This Was the First Object Ever Designed

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

Moneybox

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest jewels.

Music

A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now …

The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.

Is Everyone Going to Declare Independence if Scotland Does It? 

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Trending News Channel
Sept. 12 2014 11:26 AM Identical Twins Aren’t Really Identical
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Music
Sept. 14 2014 11:44 PM A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now … The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?