I recall the controversy over the "dirty pictures" on the Pioneer
plaque quite vividly. The plaque depicted two unclothed humans, a male
and a female. The male's genitals were exposed, and the female had a
pubic 'Y' but no genital cleft. Neither of the humans had pubic hair.
To avoid offending sensitive readers, some newspapers retouched the
images, removing all signs of genitalia, and erasing the woman's
At the time, there were many rumors that a certain amount of
censorship had occurred before the plaque's image was presented to the
media. It was said that the woman's genitals were more expicitly
portrayed in the original image, and that the man was more generously
endowed. I have never seen any confirmation of these rumors; the
artist, Linda Salzman Sagan, has not addressed the issue in public.
Other objections to the plaque came from alarmists who feared that the
plaque would lead hostile aliens to earth, from feminists who thought
the woman's pose seemed subservient, and from civil rights activists
who found the humans' faces to be markedly Caucasian in appearance.
"The Pioneer plaques were designed by Dr. Carl Sagan, one of the
founders and first president of the Planetary Society, and drawn by
his wife, Linda Salzman Sagan. On the plaque stand a human man and
woman, the man's hand raised in a gesture of good will. The outline of
the man and woman were determined from results of a computerized
analysis of the average human."
The Planetary Society: The Pioneer Plaque
"The Pioneer craft were each equipped with a gold anodised plaque with
engraved pictures of a naked man and woman beside the Pioneer, and
Earth's position in the solar system and the galaxy.
The plaque, partly designed by the late American scientist Carl Sagan,
attracted controversy at the time because the human figures were nude
Some American critics wittily dismissed the plaque as 'greetings from
Orange County', a wealthy part of Los Angeles."
The Age: The sound of silence as Pioneer 10 heads into the unknown
Wikipedia provides an excellent discussion of the Pioneer plaque, with
an image of the artwork:
"The original idea, that the Pioneer spacecrafts should carry a
message from mankind, was first mentioned by Eric Burgess when he
visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena during the Mariner 9
mission. Together with Richard Hoagland he approached Dr. Carl Sagan
who had lectured about communication with extraterrestrial
intelligences at a conference in Crimea.
Dr Sagan was enthusiastic about the idea of sending a message with the
Pioneer spacecraft. NASA agreed to the plan and gave him three weeks
to prepare a message. Together with Dr Frank Drake he designed the
plaque and the artwork was prepared by his wife Linda Salzman Sagan...
According to [Carl] Sagan... there were many negative reactions to the
plaque due to the fact that the human beings were displayed naked. The
Chicago Sun Times retouched its image to hide the genitals of the man
and woman. The Los Angeles Times received 'angry letters' from readers
which accused NASA of wasting taxpayer money to send 'obscenities'
Feminists complained that only the hand of the man was raised and not
that of the woman. In response to this criticism, a similar image
included on the Voyager Golden Record showed the woman with her hand
Wikipedia: Pioneer plaque
This article includes a photo of Carl Sagan holding the actual plaque
before it was installed in Pioneer 10:
"A 15-cm by 23-cm (6-in. by 9-in.) gold-anodized aluminum plate fixed
to the antenna support struts of Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11. It carries
an information-rich message, devised by Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, in
the event that either of the spacecraft is detected and recovered in
the remote future by advanced extraterrestrials. The message is
intended to communicate the location of the human race, the appearance
of an adult male and female of our species, and the approximate era
when the probe was launched. A line-drawing of a naked couple standing
in front of the Pioneer probe is accompanied by an ingenious scheme
for conveying distance, direction, and time information about the
The Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight: Pioneer Plaque
Google search strategy:
Google Web Search: pioneer plaque sagan man woman
I hope this information is useful. If anything is unclear, or if a
link doesn't work for you, please request clarification; I'll be glad
to offer further assistance before you rate my answer.
Request for Answer Clarification by
05 May 2004 09:21 PDT
Hello, and thanks for the prompt response!
I am of two minds regarding this; on the one hand, your answer
provides a very nice summary of the important facts (perhaps partially
culled from other documents, but that's ok), and it contains some nice
links to further information--in this respect, a wonderful,
On the other hand, I was really hoping for some concrete evidence of
how the photos were touched up from actual newspapers or magazines. I
suppose I could load the Pioneer plaque image into my favorite photo
editing program and create my own censored version, but I was really
hoping to find an original censored image along with the original
context in which it was presented (i.e. an accompanying newspaper
article explaining why the picture was changed) or, even better, two
stories from the same paper, perhaps even a few days apart, the
earlier one with an uncensored picture, and a later one with a
Any chance of finding something like this if I post a few more $$ (is
there a way to do this)? In either event, the answer as already given
will get a good ranking...