You can keep your presidential inaugurations and your state funerals, here’s the commission every self-respecting poet really dreams of.
NASA has asked U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón to craft an original poem that will go on the spacecraft Europa Clipper on its voyage to Jupiter’s second moon, Europa.
I have been wanting to share this news since I first got the call. I have the extreme honor of crafting an original poem that will go on the spacecraft @EuropaClipper to Jupiter’s second moon Europa! It’s the most intimidating and inspiring prompt I have ever received. https://t.co/DFyUg1onPY
— Ada Limón (@adalimon) January 30, 2023
The poem, written by Limón and dedicated to the Europa Clipper mission (to find out if the conditions are right for life on Jupiter’s icy moon, where an ocean of liquid water is thought to exist beneath the icy crust) will be engraved on the the spacecraft, where it will travel 1.8 billion miles on its path to the Jupiter system.
According to NASA’s website:
The spacecraft is set to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in October 2024 and by 2030, it will be in orbit around the gas giant. It will conduct multiple flybys of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, to gather detailed measurements and determine if the moon has conditions suitable for life. Europa is thought to contain a massive internal ocean and is considered one of the most promising habitable environments in our solar system, beyond Earth.
Readers may remember the 1997 science fiction/film noir classic Gattaca, in which a murder investigation threatens to derail plucky gene-imposter Ethan Hawke’s mission to Saturn’s moon Titan (where life is thought to exist beneath an obscuring cloud of gas). The Europa Clipper mission is a lot like that, except instead of Ethan Hawke, it’s a poem, and instead of the gristly murder of an administrator, it’s (we all hope) a smooth runway without any in-house murders or even attempted murders.
Anyway, we wish both Limón and the NASA engineers the very best of luck as the set to their respective tasks. This romantic melding of the scientific and the artistic brings to mind Carl Sagan’s Golden Records—two phonograph records that were included aboard both Voyager spacecraft launched into outer space in 1977. The records, which Sagan referred to as “a bottle launched into the cosmic ocean,” contained sounds (including the gentle barking of a tame dog, Sagan’s heartbeat as he was falling in love, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,”) and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and were intended to communicate to extraterrestrials a story of the world of humans on Earth.
May the sentient ice creatures of Europa enjoy the work of one of our finest poets.