The Symbolism of Elon Musk Sending a Car Into Space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—Decades ago, the business of launching stuff beyond Earth’s orbit fell solely under the purview of governments. When the stuff being sent wasn’t robotic hardware or scientific instruments, the people who chose what it would be approached the decision-making with a certain amount of seriousness about what it would say about the senders, what it would all mean. This stuff, after all, would be speaking not just for one spacefaring nation, but for the entire human species.

In the 1970s, a small group of people led by the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan spent weeks deliberating the contents of a message they would eventually send flying into the cosmos on board the Voyager spacecraft on their journey through the solar system. They picked a range of sounds, voices, and images from many corners of the planet in an attempt to create a capsule that could represent—however imperfectly—the entire world. And then they hurled it into the sky.

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