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COSMIC MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE
Monday, 13 January, 2003
A cosmic "message in a bottle" is to be left in space as a relic of the
A disc engraved with the first three chapters of Genesis in 1,000 native
tongues will travel to a distant comet.
The European Space Agency's (Esa) Rosetta mission, set for take-off this
month, is making an eight-year voyage to intercept Comet Wirtanen.
The unmanned spacecraft will orbit the ball of ice, matter and dust, and
land a probe on its surface.
The inscription, attached to the outside of the main spacecraft, is designed
to act as a relic of the languages on Earth.
Once the mission is over, the mother ship could end up circling for
thousands of years until it breaks up or collides with a planet.
The space mission is named after the famous Rosetta Stone - carved with
inscriptions in Egyptian and Greek - found by a French soldier in Egypt in
Wirtanen: One of a family of comets that orbit the Sun and Jupiter
The discovery of the basalt stone slab, written at the beginning of the 2nd
century BC, unlocked the secrets of ancient Egyptian writing.
The spacecraft words, corresponding to 7,000 pages of a book, have been
produced by the Rosetta project of the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco,
The organisation, which is trying to save the world's languages, fears most
will die out within the next century.
The global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers is
working to develop a contemporary version of the historic Rosetta Stone.
"Fifty to 90% of the world's languages are predicted to disappear in the
next century, many with little or no significant documentation," said a
spokeswoman for the Long Now Foundation.
It hopes the process of creating a new Rosetta Stone will help draw
attention to "the tragedy of language extinction as well as speeding the
work to preserve what we have left of this critical manifestation of the
Sending words, music or memorabilia into space is becoming a tradition.
Messages in many languages and music by the likes of jazz great Louis
Armstrong flew on the US space agency (Nasa) Voyager spacecraft in the
The earlier Nasa Pioneer 10 and 11 probes carried metallic plates containing
information about humans and Earth.
Rosetta is due to take off from a base in Kourou, French Guiana, on an
Ariane 5 rocket.
The original launch date had to be postponed after a newer version of the
rocket veered off course and had to be destroyed in December.
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