Welcome to the international headquarters of the World Timecapsule Fund.
You're in the spare bedroom of Charles S. Smith's condo here. Smith is the project president. That's him over there - the earnest, well-scrubbed, 28-year-old man standing next to the map of the solar system, pointing out possible trajectories to send your ideas to beings in outer space.For nearly seven years, Smith has worked toward his dream of gathering a wealth of earthly knowledge and sending it into far distant space. His goal is to launch a satellite, probably about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, to celebrate the new millennium.
From now until 2,000 or 2,001, he expects to be collecting the best of human endeavor - art, music, literature, architectural renderings, photography, science.
He won't decide what goes into the capsule. He wants children and adults of all nations to submit their ideas. The wonders of science will make it possible to transfer the material to a compact digital form so that most entries can be included, he says, and a decade or so after launch, the capsule will be beyond our solar system and creatures somewhere will learn of our civilization from it.
His plan is more than a message in a bottle sent out into the void, he says. "It's really a message to ourselves here and now, a symbol of our faith in the future."
Smith spends about 80 hours a month on the project, much of it in front of his computer. He has a commercial photography job to support himself and his nonprofit venture; he figures he's pumped in $5,000 of his own money, primarily for newsletter printing and postage to get out the word.
For years he has written funding applications. The only grant he has scared up so far is $250 from his employer, Dayton-Hudson. He's also gotten a $50 check from his mom. But he's not discouraged.
Listen to him: "1988 was a good year for the World Timecapsule Fund, despite not being able to secure start-up funding, which was our primary goal. Why was it good? Because we are still here, we are still growing, more optimistic, more knowledgeable, and one year further along in our journey."
Details are to be worked out later. He's not certain how the capsule will be launched, how many millions of dollars the project will require, how much information can be crammed into a capsule, or how he can get the project to snowball and get attention all over the world. With science progressing as fast as it is, he says he's sure technology will exist by the year 2000, his projected launch date, to make his dream possible.
Not everyone asked to help his project has done so. He has what he gamely calls "a nice collection of autographs" in the form of rejection letters from people who chose not to join his advisory board: Warren Burger, Arthur C. Clarke, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Isaac Asimov, George Lucas and more.
His favorite was a letter from his hero, Carl Sagan, who explained he was terribly busy but "I hope you will forgive me for declining." Said Smith, "Forgive him? I was thrilled to get a letter from him!"
As a kid in Sheboygan, Wis., Chuck Smith was daffy about space exploration and time capsules. One of his fondest childhood memories is the city's kids putting together a time capsule to plant in a park.
Smith spent two years studying photography in Boston and eventually got a job as a commercial photographer for Dayton's. Over the years, his childhood interest in science fiction stretched into science fact. What captivated him was the 1979 launch of the Voyager satellites with a 12-inch copper disk containing 118 photos and 90 minutes of earth's music and sounds.
He started making lists of things he would put in a time capsule. He asked friends what they would include. The depth and breadth of the answers thrilled him. His first official submission was a drawing by his 8-year-old niece, Heidi.
By 1986 he felt surd inough about his dream to present it to others. He brought together friends to form a steering committee and incorporated the World Timecapsule Fund and applied for tax-exempt status. "Try to convince the IRS of something visionary," he said. He suceeded.
He's looking for corporate sponsors. He's hitting AT&T, IBM, American Express, Kodak, Coca-Cola, U.S. West, Northwest Airlines. He's getting good wishes but no checks yet.