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Q: Censorship of plaque placed on Pioneer Spacecraft ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Censorship of plaque placed on Pioneer Spacecraft
Category: Relationships and Society > Religion
Asked by: tom_cortese-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 04 May 2004 15:42 PDT
Expires: 03 Jun 2004 15:42 PDT
Question ID: 341147
The Pioneer 10 spacecraft was launched (I believe) from Cape Kennedy
on March 2, 1972.  Its purpose was to travel far beyond the solar
system, collecting pictures and other scientific data, and
transmitting this information back to Earth.

The spacecraft also featured a sort of cosmic "message in a bottle",
consisting of a plaque showing pictures of what people looked like,
what our solar system looked like, and where our solar system is in
relation to fourteen pulsars within our galaxy.

Numerous pictures of this plaque are available online; I'm sure you
can find one with no difficulty if you wish to be reminded of what it
looks like (or if you've never seen it)--just do a google picture
search for "pioneer plaque".

I have heard/read several rumors concerning censorship of this plaque,
both before it was made (i.e. initial versions of the plaque were
different from what was eventually bolted to the spacecraft) and after
the spacecraft was launched (i.e. newspapers originally published
pictures of the actual plaque, but later editions published censored
pictures of the plaque).

The issue here, though I find it hard to believe, is that some people
were concerned with spreading pornography throughout the galaxy, and
demanded that the genitals be removed from the drawings (i.e. a
cursory examination of the plaque shows the male penis/scrotum in
plain view, but the woman has no vagina, or even any hint thereof) in
order to make them more "decent".

Can you shed any light on these rumors?  Specifically, I would be
interested in seeing an "original" picture of what the plaque looked
like before being censored to the version that was finally launched
with Pioneer, and/or seeing newspaper/magazine articles showing the
plaque as it was launched with Pioneer and later articles showing the
pictures with even more reproductive features wiped out.  I would also
be interested in hearing the line of "reasoning" used to justify
removing features from the female but leaving the male features
Subject: Re: Censorship of plaque placed on Pioneer Spacecraft
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 04 May 2004 19:38 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
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
and Caucasian.

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'
into space.

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
spacecraft's origins."

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.

Best regards,

Request for Answer Clarification by tom_cortese-ga on 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,
well-written reply.

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
censored picture.

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...

Clarification of Answer by pinkfreud-ga on 05 May 2004 10:56 PDT
I'd have loved to have been able to provide facsimiles of the censored
images, but it appears that these have been suppressed by the
publications which did the censoring in 1972. Two hours of targeted
online searches failed to uncover authentic altered images from the
Pioneer plaque.

Here's my theory:

When these images originally appeared in copyrighted newspapers, the
newspapers acquired distribution rights. The publishers of the
newspapers who censored the "naughty bits" of the Pioneer plaque may
be justifiably embarrassed by their past prudery, and consequently
disinclined to release these images from their archives for pubic

It is no doubt possible to view the censored images on microfilm in
libraries which have archived the newspapers in question, such as the
Chicago Sun-Times. But although a Google Answers Researcher might be
able to do that, it would not be legal for us to republish the images
online unless we received permission from the copyright holder.
Ironically, the likelihood of the images being reproduced seems to
have been removed along with the reproductive organs of the couple
depicted on the plaque. ;-)

tom_cortese-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

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