Saturday, August 6, 2011

In those days, even the Nasa wrote letters

I continue to talk about my past interest in symbolic arrows… which I've already evoked in three blog posts: in May, June and yesterday. The reason why I'm somewhat obsessed by this subject is that I've been working on a summary designed to clarify my brief exchange of letters about arrows with Ernst Gombrich, in 1976. This summary is almost completed, and I'll be announcing its existence shortly, in the form of a downloadable PDF file. Meanwhile, let me evoke briefly one of the most notorious symbolic arrows of all time: the curved trajectory that was engraved in the plaque aboard the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes.

As you can see (at the bottom of the image), a curved line with an arrow-head at its right-hand extremity is intended to indicate the trajectory of the space vessel from its departure point, the planet Earth, to the vicinity of the orbit of Saturn. The question that springs into the mind of a skeptical earthbound observer is: Would extraterrestrial observers necessarily grasp the sense of this symbolic arrow? I sent a letter concerning my doubts to Nasa:

[Click to enlarge]

And I got a prompt and informative reply (curiously undated) from Charles Redmond, their public affairs officer in Washington.

[Click to enlarge]

Regardless of the objective content of our exchanges, I remain nostalgic today concerning that epoch, just a few decades ago (but before the Internet), when a simple individual such as myself could communicate directly with a fabulous organization such as the Nasa. At that time, needless to say, there were numerous indicators towards the future.

I often wonder retrospectively which (if any) of these paths towards the future I followed… leading to my solitary installation here at Gamone.

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