Is English Leaving Space?

Earlier this week, NASA announced that it is looking for new astronauts. Though NASA has sent its last shuttle into space, it will continue to send astronauts to the International Space Station through a collaboration with the Russian Federal Space Agency. NASA has promised to help staff the International Space Station (ISS) through at least 2020. So the ISS will continue to host astronauts from around the world, including Japan and Europe in addition to Russia and the United States. Many languages are spoken on board, and the spoken dialogue computer on the ISS, named Clarissa, was programmed to understand both English and Russian. (Learn about how stars are named here.)

But English may become a thing of the past in the cosmos. NASA is taking international cooperation a step further. The new class of astronauts will be required to learn Russian before they go into space. Because the Russian Federal Space Agency is facilitating the space flight to and from the ISS, it makes sense that the NASA wants astronauts to be able to correspond with their fellow space travelers.

What about English elsewhere in space? The plaque on the Moon from the Apollo missions reads (in English): “Here Men From The Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind.” (Read more about how Pluto’s fourth moon got its name.)

In general, though, most interstellar communication has tried to be distinctly non-language specific. For example, the Pioneer spacecrafts sent into space in the early 1970s gave depictions of human beings and our relative position in the universe without any specific language.

What do you think about potentially communicating with other lifeforms?

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