Opening from J.G.Ballards 1977 short story, ‘The Intensive Care Unit’.
Within a few minutes the next attack will begin. Now that I am surrounded for the first time by all the members of my family it seems only fitting that a complete record should be made of this unique event. As I lie here – barely able to breathe, my mouth filled with blood and every tremor of my hands reflected in the attentive eye of the camera six feet away – I realize that there are many who will think my choice of subject a curious one. In all senses, this film will be the ultimate homemovie, and I only hope that whoever watches it will gain some idea of the immense affection I feel for my wife, and for my son and daughter, and of the affection that they, in their unique way, feel for me.
It is now half an hour since the explosion, and everything in this once elegant sitting room is silent. I am lying on the floor by the settee, looking at the camera mounted safely out of reach on the ceiling above my head. In this uneasy stillness, broken only by my wife’s faint breathing and the irregular movement of my son across the carpet, I can see that almost everything I have assembled so lovingly during the past years has been destroyed. My Svres lies in a thousand fragments in the fireplace, the Hokusai scrolls are punctured in a dozen places. Yet despite the extensive damage this is still recognizably the scene of a family reunion, though of a rather special kind.
Solaris chronicles the ultimate futility of attempted communications with the extraterrestrial life on a far-distant planet. Solaris, with whom Terran scientists are attempting communication, is almost completely covered with an ocean that is revealed to be a single, planet-encompassing organism. What appear to be waves on its surface are later revealed to be the equivalents of muscle contractions.
Kris Kelvin arrives aboard the scientific research station hovering (via anti-gravity generators) near the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris. The scientists there have studied the planet and its ocean for many decades, a scientific discipline known as Solaristics, which over the years has degenerated to simply observe, record and categorize the complex phenomena that occur upon the surface of the ocean. Thus far, they have only achieved the formal classification of the phenomena with an elaborate nomenclature — yet do not understand what such activities really mean in a strictly scientific sense. Shortly before psychologist Kelvin’s arrival, the crew has exposed the ocean to a more aggressive and unauthorized experimentation with a high-energy X-ray bombardment. Their experimentation gives unexpected results and becomes psychologically traumatic for them as individually flawed humans.
The ocean’s response to their aggression exposes the deeper, hidden aspects of the personalities of the human scientists — whilst revealing nothing of the ocean’s nature itself. To the extent that the ocean’s actions can be understood, the ocean then seems to test the minds of the scientists by confronting them with their most painful and repressed thoughts and memories. It does this via the materialization of physical human simulacra; Kelvin confronts memories of his dead lover and guilt about her suicide. The torments of the other researchers are only alluded to but seem even worse than Kelvin’s personal purgatory.
The ocean’s intelligence expresses physical phenomena in ways difficult for their limited earth science to explain, deeply upsetting the scientists. The alien (extraterrestrial) mind of Solaris is so greatly different from the human mind of (objective) consciousness that attempts at inter-species communications are a dismal failure.
The Voyager 2 spacecraft is a 722-kilogram (1,592 lb) space probe launched by NASA on August 20, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and eventually interstellar space. Operating for 34 years, 8 months and 5 days as of today (25 April 2012), the spacecraft receives routine commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network.
Part of the Voyager program with its identical sister craft Voyager 1, the spacecraft is currently in extended mission, tasked with locating and studying the boundaries of the Solar System, including the Kuiper belt, the heliosphere and interstellar space. The primary mission ended December 31, 1989 after encountering the Jovian system in 1979, Saturnian system in 1980, Uranian system in 1986, and the Neptunian system in 1989. It was the first probe to provide detailed images of the outer gas giants.
Each Voyager space probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that either spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life-forms from other planetary systems. The discs carry photos of the Earth and its lifeforms, a range of scientific information, spoken greetings from the people (e.g. the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the United States, and the children of the Planet Earth) and a medley, “Sounds of Earth”, that includes the sounds of whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and a variety of music.
As the probes are extremely small compared to the vastness of interstellar space, the probability of a space-faring civilization encountering them is very small, especially since the probes will eventually stop emitting any kind of electromagnetic radiation. If they are ever found by an alien species, it will most likely be far in the future as the nearest star on Voyager 1’s trajectory will only be reached in 40,000 years.
Carl Sagan noted that “The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this ‘bottle‘ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” Thus the record is best seen as a time capsule or a symbolic statement rather than a serious attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life.