Jerry Pournelle's Recollections


The following communication was received in June 2011 from Jerry Pournelle (see here and here).


Larry Niven and I were at the JPL conference at which Eric Burgess came up with the idea that we ought to put some kind of message on the spacecraft, and at the conference in El Segundo where details were announced. Eric mentioned it to us at lunch and said he was going to approach Carl Sagan about it. Larry and I thought it was a great idea.

Burgess was at the time the science correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and was I think the doyen of the science press corps, although Walter Sullivan of the N.Y. Times was better known and extremely popular. Everyone I know respected Eric.

Carl's team did all the detail work and got most of the credit for the plaque, but I never heard Eric complain about that. I do know that Eric was mighty proud of the idea, and indeed he should have been, and I didn't think there was much controversy among the science press corps about where the idea came from. Carl had long been a friend to the science press, and indeed a personal friend of many of its members, and was the most approachable of the NASA planetary science team, so it was logical that Eric would approach Carl about it.

I remember Richard Hoagland as a part of the science press, but though I am aware that these memories are old, I don't recall him having had any more (or less) part in the notion of the message than Niven and I, namely applauding the idea when Eric broached it to us. Frankly, I don't even remember Hoagland being at that particular lunch. I was with National Catholic Press (Twin Circle magazine), which had a circulation of more than a million, and may have been science correspondent/science editor of Galaxy Science Fiction at the time as well (the dates are a bit hazy). Niven was with me as an associate.

Interestingly, a number of science fiction writers were more or less accepted as science press at JPL, and Science Fiction Writers of America members who showed up got regular press credentials. I had helped arrange that when I was President of SFWA. Arthur C. Clarke, who was a friend of then JPL Director William Pickering, approved the idea when I took it to the JPL press people.

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