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|October 15, 2002|
The Rediff Special/Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Imagine recording a message that will traverse through outer space for years and years... 50,000 years, to be precise, and then return to Earth so that our descendents can read about the way we were. If that sounds like a fairy tale or science fiction, think again. It is as real as reading this article!
Project KEO is about a satellite doing just that: traversing through space for the next 500 centuries, carrying information, images, and messages from present-day humans, then returning to touch base with Planet Earth so that our descendents will know how life on earth was in 2002 CE.
Project KEO has invited messages from all over the world till the end of this year. These messages will be loaded on to the satellite before the satellite is launched into space at the end of AD 2003. The idea behind Project KEO is to transmit the messages of ordinary people living on Earth today to our descendents, telling them whatever it is that they wish to convey.
Indian citizens who would like to have their message recorded, to be replayed 50,000 years from now, can do so from the Web site www.keo.org or post their message to the 'The Embassy of France, 2 Aurangzeb Road, New Delhi 110 011'. All messages, whether of one line or a maximum of four pages (6,000 characters), will be included, uncensored, on the KEO satellite. The sender must mention his or her nationality and country of residence.
Messages can also be sent through SMS (short messaging service) on the cell phone free. Such messages should be sent to (+91) 98200 18700 and must include the words 'Message to KEO' and the sender's mother tongue, gender, and date of birth.
French scientist Jean-Marc Philippe, who conceptualised the project and is president of Programme KEO, said different languages are welcome. "After all, the word 'keo' [was chosen] because its pronunciation is the same in all the world's languages," he explained.
The KEO project has been built free by some of Europe's leading space agencies, and, according to a press statement, seeks to fuse the boundaries of scientific endeavour and artistic experimentation. The project will be the largest collective artwork ever undertaken in the history of humanity, and UNESCO has designated KEO as the 'Project of the 21st century'.
The spherical KEO satellite has several anti-shock, anti-cosmic, anti-debris, anti-meteoric and thermal shields that will protect it during its 50,000-year-long space odyssey. It shall be adorned with wings that will flutter in response to temperature variations in outer space. The influence of planetary and lunar attraction, and the laws of ballistics, will make it return to Earth.
Within the core of the satellite will be stored the most important gift: frescoes of messages (digitised and stored on glass discs), the Library of Alexandria (a description of our time, level of development, body of knowledge, state of our planet, and today's living species), an astronomical clock, portraits of human beings as they look today, and a diamond enclosing samples of air, water, soil, and human blood. These materials, it is hoped, will help our descendents understand how humans lived 50,000 years before their time.
According to Philippe, the appearance of the human species began five million years ago and man first produced tools 2.5 million years ago. Then, about 500,000 years ago, man harnessed fire; 100,000 years ago he constructed his first sepulchre. "And it was 50,000 years ago when man invented art. And hence, we are timing KEO's return after 50,000 years."
Philippe was in India last month visiting different cities to create greater awareness about his project. His grievance is that people from the developed world are writing more messages than those in the developing world. "I think in most of the developing countries, the penetration and awareness of the Internet is less compared to the developed countries and therefore there are less messages from developing countries," he said.
Actress and Member of Parliament Shabana Azmi, who has supported Project KEO, said, "For me, this project offers hope and love. KEO is important because it sends a message of peace from today's world to tomorrow's world. In fact, we all must think of how we should spread the message of KEO in different parts of rural India."
But how will our future descendents read our messages?
"It is evident that what is a must in our technology today --- a laser reader --- will be obsolete in the future," said Philippe. "And due to its volume and innate fragility, a DVD disk reader cannot be included in KEO's payload. Therefore we are working on creating diagrams bearing simple symbolic explanations to construct a DVD disk reader in order to make it possible for our descendents to access the contents of the discs. Following the example of the Rosetta Stone, this information will be repeatedly made available to them such that it is clear and easy to decode."
KEO has received messages in 60 different languages from 181 counties so far and by the end of 2003, when it sets out on its journey through space, it will have even more messages in many more languages.
Philippe appealed to Indians to send in more messages. "Your civilization is amongst the oldest in the world, your country is known for its wide span of cultures, religions and traditions, and also today for its technological capabilities. So please log on as many messages as you can in KEO," he said.
Sejal Gupta, who worked as communications assistant on the KEO project, also appealed to Indians to send in messages. "I want many Indians to log on to KEO and give their messages because so far the maximum number of messages have come from the United States, Canada, and Europe."
Image: Rahil Shaikh
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