- Name: Suchetan Mummigatti
- Location: Cranfield, United Kingdom
- Graduation Date: September 11, 2020
Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering (Bangalore, India) and a Master’s in Astronautics and Space Engineering from Cranfield University, UK.
My research (MAILbox) was my master’s research project. There are new studies coming out every day in the field of space exploration and it has been my passion for quite some time. I hope to be part of the field and find answers to questions that we have just begun to ask.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My research in simple words is a payload design. It is a piece of technology that can be mounted over any satellite that we send into space. The idea originates from the Voyager Golden records or the Pioneer plaque. The records and the plate, designed by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan in the 70s, carried a message from humanity on-board the Voyager and Pioneer satellites. They were meant to deliver this message to any alien civilisation that came across them. The message depicted humanity as a peaceful and welcoming civilisation reaching out to other civilisations out there.
Since then, there have been no new efforts made to send out a physical message. This largely is due to new studies showing how our communication efforts are misleading both in linguistic and sensory perspective. If we consider the Voyager records, the inscription on the records were supposed to indicate the alien civilisation on how to build a record player and watch and listen to the contents of the records. However, these inscriptions have been found by linguists to be misleading and often confusing. Even for scientists on Earth, it was a tough time decoding the inscriptions. How would an alien civilisation begin to understand our syntax and numbers, build a record player, and later begin to grasp the enormous amount of info in the disc? Even if we assumed that the record player was successfully built and played, the images, audio and music on the record is filled with randomness.
This randomness originates due to few oversights. One being it is set in the human perspective. For example, we are heterotrophs and there are images of people having food and water. An alien civilisation that could be completely unaware of heterotrophic behaviour would find this information confusing. Another example would be reproduction explained in the images. How does one explain a smaller human inside a larger human to an alien civilisation that could have a completely different reproduction system? Evolutionary changes on Earth brought about the mammalian characteristics we see today. Evolution on another planet could be completely dissimilar to ours. This is the same with the audio message on the records. The large volume of human music could just be noise to an alien civilisation.
The second oversight was the assumption of ‘universality of mathematics and science’. In several cases we have assumed a linear mathematical system for explaining images and concepts. This has been criticised largely over the years.
The third and probably the main oversight was the assumption that the alien civilisation would have a similar sensory system to that of ours, to interpret the message. This again is an effect of evolution on Earth. An alien civilisation without eyesight such as a species of mole would be unable to see the images.
These shortcomings called for a better means of message delivery that is inclusive of both linguistic and sensory abilities. This has never been easier than now with the growth of technology and the emergence of new fields of ‘astrolinguistics’ and ‘astrosociology’. This is when I came forth with an idea of multi-perceptual modalities message delivery module, which I named, MAILbox (Message All Intelligent Lifeforms).
MAILbox (Message All Intelligent Lifeforms) visual representations.
Please describe the process of learning, iterating, and creating the project
MAILbox is an individual research project as part of my course at the Cranfield University, UK. When I started with it, all I considered was, with several new space grade technologies available, the concept would just require interfacing and implementation packed in a small sized module. The projects built a logical common ground between an inter-specie communication using modern understanding of astrolinguistics and astrosociology to design a message. The design of the message considers how it would be perceived by any species it might encounter, while not appearing intimidating, provocative or misleading about humanity and the Earth. The message is required to be interpreted in various modalities of information perception. The study, in its concept message, avoids all human semiotics, syntaxes, and language interpretations, and implements visual and audio cues interpreted in the different modalities defined in the project. MAILbox consists of three modalities for message delivery.
The visual modality consists of three display techniques, colour, infrared and ultraviolet. Humans can perceive their surroundings in the visual colour spectrum. However, this may not be same for an unknown alien civilisation. The study therefore argues that it is reasonable to consider examples of variation in visual perception in species on Earth for implementation of other visu