In the quest to communicate with life beyond our tiny blue planet, human beings have sent records of our most meaningful cultural expressions into space: Beethoven’s Fifth, a mother’s kiss, and now, queso. Thanks to Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, the recipe for this melty, cheesy, Tex-Mex classic is currently en route to the moon.
“We choose to send queso to the Moon—and maybe someday chips as well—not because these things are easy, but because they are hard,” said Adler, self-described “Mayor of All the Queso,” in a press release.
Adler sent the recipe onboard a SpaceX Rocket, Falcon 9, which launched from Cape Canaveral on February 21 and is scheduled to land on the lunar surface by April 11. It was included alongside a “Lunar Library” that will be dropped with an Israeli lander, the first from that country. The Lunar Library consists of radiation-proof nickel disks, each only 40 microns thick, laser-etched with minuscule letters spelling out a library of human knowledge. The disks hold digital material as well. This Billion Year Archive is an initiative of the Arch Mission Foundation, which seeks to “continuously preserve and disseminate humanity’s most important knowledge across time and space.” The library contains the entirety of English Wikipedia and tens of thousands of books.
Accompanying this record of human achievement is a letter from Adler addressed to “Extraterrestrials! Or Martians. Or space beings. Or Future Humans from Mars.” In what may be the first interplanetary real estate pitch, Adler suggests extraterrestrials visit or move to Austin, and promises them free puppies and unlimited queso. “Have you heard of queso?” Adler asks. “Have you tried it? Do it. Do it now.” Addressing the obvious problem of where, precisely, aliens would encounter queso in a hostile lunar landscape, Adler encloses a queso recipe from Kerbey Lane, a popular Austin cafe whose previously secret recipe attracts fans from across the region.
Kerbey Lane’s queso recipe isn’t the first record of culinary achievement sent into space. That honor goes to the photos of food included as part of the Golden Records, two gold-plated records containing a collection of music, sounds, and photos meant to communicate the soul of humanity to our interstellar neighbors. NASA sent the Golden Records, compiled by a team led by Carl Sagan, into space on Voyagers 1 and 2 in 1977. While NASA originally designed the Voyagers to last five years and provide close-range observations of Jupiter and Saturn, they’re still sending data back to Earth more than 40 years and 13 billion miles later.
They’re also still bearing culinary gifts for any extraterrestrials that may cross their path, including an image of a woman eating grapes in the produce section of a supermarket, a child breastfeeding, and a triptych demonstrating human beings licking ice cream, eating toast, and drinking water. The last image has proven particularly controversial, with some human commentators fearing the photographic subject’s eccentric approach to eating toast has deterred friendly aliens from making contact.
More poignantly, the Golden Record includes one of the most human sentiments of all: an invitation for the denizens of outer space to come and break bread with us. “Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet?” the speaker asks in the South Min Chinese dialect. “Come visit us if you have time.”
While some fear extraterrestrials would rather eat us than eat with us—and while it’s admittedly doubtful that aliens who find these messages would understand them—the invitations are a gesture of interstellar peace. Our urge to share food with aliens is a foolish and beautiful act of hope: the hope that we are not alone, and that other life forms in this universe will appreciate a bowl of queso.
Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
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