While NASA’s Lucy mission is officially in the sky with diamonds after a successful launch Saturday, she’s not alone.
Accompanying Lucy on a 12-year journey are messages from Earth, including a poem by inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman and lyrics and quotes from the Beatles. The ambitious mission will explore the never-before-seen Trojan asteroid swarms, pristine remnants from the formation of our solar system.
Lucy also carries with her the legacy of discovery, sharing a name with a fossil belonging to an ancient human ancestor. The fossil, discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia by anthropologist Donald Johanson, was named in honor of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles.
“That night in camp, in the middle of nowhere, when we were celebrating her discovery, we were listening to a Beatles tape of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’” Johanson said during a live NASA broadcast of Lucy’s launch. “The song ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ was playing, and someone said, ‘Why don’t you just call her Lucy?’ and that was it; you could not go back and call her anything else.”
Once Lucy’s mission to explore the asteroids is complete, the spacecraft will remain in a stable orbit, traveling between Earth and the Trojans for hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – of years. So the mission team included a gold plaque filled with messages from Earth’s Nobel laureates in literature, US poet laureates and other inspirational figures.
It’s not unlike the plaques on NASA’s Pioneer 10 and 11 missions and golden records on Voyager 1 and 2 – all human-built objects venturing into interstellar space. Lucy won’t travel that far, but she continues the tradition, serving as a time capsule for our descendants, according to the agency.
The plaque includes a diagram showing Lucy’s trajectory to explore the Trojans and the position of the planets in our solar system on Lucy’s launch date: October 16, 2021.
“NASA places this plaque with the hope that space exploration continues and someday astro-archeologists may travel among the planets and retrieve this spacecraft as an artifact of the early days when humanity took its first steps to explore our Solar System,” according to an agency release.
Messages of hope
Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in US history, wrote an original poem specifically for the Lucy mission:
“Blessed be the people who see
The dream in the bones of Lucy:
That the worlds braved by humankind
Be worlds that leave us humans kind.
Let each dawn find us courageous,
Heeding the light forevermore.
May ancient hope implore us,
At our uncompromising core,
To keep rising for an earth more
Than worth fighting for.”
Adjacent to Gorman’s poem are these words by Martin Luther King Jr.: “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
Lyrics and quotes from all four members of the Beatles were included on the plaque. Sir Ringo Starr shared his “Peace and Love” message. These lyrics from the other members of the Fab Four are also along for the ride:
- “We all shine on … like the moon and the stars and the sun,” from the late John Lennon’s song “Instant Karma!”
- “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make,” written by Sir Paul McCartney in “The End”
- “When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find peace of mind is waiting there,” written by the late George Harrison in “Within You Without You”
See all of the messages, including quotes from Albert Einstein; Joy Harjo, the first Native American to be named a US poet laureate; and astronomer Carl Sagan, who worked on the Pioneer plaques and Voyager golden records, here.
The words inscribed on the gold plaque were not the only messages of strength, dedication and the celebration of human life sent to space Saturday. Laminated on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that launched the Lucy spacecraft were three dedications.
One plaque was dedicated to the Goddard Space Flight Center Lucy Mission Team with the message “Lucy Strong” to recognize the team’s hard work to assemble a spacecraft during a pandemic.
The other two honored team members who died before the launch, including Craig M. Whittaker with NASA’s Launch Services Program, technician William Joiner II, and engineer Mark Kaszubowski. All three had long careers at NASA and United Launch Alliance and were also remembered as dear friends.
Whittaker’s son, Jarrod Whittaker, was able to watch the Atlas rocket bearing his father’s dedication lift off on Saturday. Jarrod, a vehicle systems engineer, worked with his father at NASA’s Launch Services Program for five years. He remembered discussing science missions at the dinner table with his dad when he was just 7 years old.
“He always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, but I always knew in my heart I would be at NASA LSP,” he said during a live NASA broadcast of the Lucy launch.