Searching for the unknown is a trait that is deeply rooted in human nature. Since pre-historical times, human beings have been keen to expand the boundaries of their inhabited environment, often exposing themselves to high risks, reaching out to new uncharted territory. Ancient navigators sailed the globe searching for new lands and unknown seas. Even in the absence of foreseeable advantages, the desire to explore the world has always been alive, motivated by a profound attraction for everything that is. Such inborn need for novelty is a continuous solicitation to “go beyond”, to be open to the encounter with the unexpected, with the foreign, with the «other» – be it another person, an unknown continent, or a new planet. Explorers of all kinds are sustained by the intuition that whatever new aspect they may discover in their investigation, that yet-unknown reality will mean something to us, it will unveil some new element about our place in the world, about our origin and destiny. The arts and literature of all human cultures have expressed beautifully out ancestral desire to navigate the mysterious. Such deeply-rooted attitude, not only resulted in a great expansion of our knowledge of the world, but also in a deeper understanding of ourselves.
In our contemporary era, scientific research at large is a new dramatic form of exploration, which has extended the boundaries of our knowledge of the physical world with unprecedented depth. But there is a particular form of scientific endeavor that directly represents a modern version of the early navigators: space exploration. Indeed, in space exploration we do not carry our our experiments within a laboratory, nor do we “passively” observe the universe around us with our telescopes, but we actually set off and send spacecrafts (either transporting astronauts or, more often, sophisticated instrumentation) into the cosmic ocean, to study other worlds in-situ, and to interact directly with their extraterrestrial environment.
In spite of major risks, difficulties and losses, interplanetary space programs have been carried out uninterruptedly for over half a century. Thanks to a remarkable technological development, scientists have extended space navigation well beyond near-Earth orbits and have sent dozens of probes to several planets and moons in our Solar System. Some of these missions, such as the epoch-making conquest of the Moon by the Apollo program, and other European (ESA and American (NASA) missions to deep space, have had a major impact on our perception of our own place in the universe. Among these, the Voyager program emerges as an outstanding enterprise.
After a 36-years and 18-billion kilometer journey, Voyager 1 is the first spaceship to have crossed the border of our Solar System. Launched in 1977, taking advantage of a rare favorable planetary alignment, the two Voyager spacecrafts approached all the outer planets, from Mars to Neptune. They discovered new moons and send back to us the first nearby images of unexplored worlds. The Voyager program has revolutionized out understanding of the Solar System and has paved the way to a number of focused follow-up missions, targeting single planets and satellites. In August 2013 Voyager 1 completed its journey in the Solar System by crossing the Heliopause, thus becoming the first man-made object to enter interstellar space.
Each of the two Voyager contains a «Golden Disk», a sort of “cosmic postcard” encoding information on us humans, on our cultural and scientific heritage, and on our planet Earth. Their (rather symbolic) objective is to communicate ourselves to potential extraterrestrial beings, should they exist and happen to find one of the Voyagers. In such most improbable task, these disks are emblematic of a key aspect of the human experience of exploration: the perennial necessity of encountering something and somebody. We explore not only for finding, but also to be found.
The exhibition will take the visitors on board the Voyager for an ideal inter-planetary journey, starting from the Earth and reaching the outer boundary of the Solar System. By presenting historical imagery, model reproductions from real space hardware, videos and multimedia material, the visitors will be exposed to the formidable technical challenges involved in these missions and to the spectacular flyby of recent probes. The exhibits will expose the visitor to the diverse extraterrestrial landscapes, from the fascinating setting of Mars to the exotic giant planets, from the great Moons of Jupiter to the breathtaking view of the rings of Saturn and the landing of Cassini on Titan.
At the end of the journey, we will appreciate our planet in a genuinely new way: we shall realize how minute, wonderful and hospitable is our planet Earth. In fact, observing reality from the outer peripheries may represent a vantage point from where the center, our dwelling place, can best be considered and understood. As T.S. Eliot wrote: «We shall not cease from exploration / and the end of all our exploring / will be to arrive where we started / and know the place for the first time».