Somewhere out there, billions and billions of miles from Earth, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling towards the back of beyond at a rate of more than 35,000 miles per hour. They were sent into outer space in 1977 to take pictures of Jupiter and Saturn — but also in the hopes that maybe, somewhere beyond our solar system, aliens might spot the craft and wonder “Who the heck made those?”
Should that happen, each craft holds a copy of a golden record that included, among other things, human greetings recorded in more than 50 languages, sounds peculiar to Earth, and a selection of greatest musical hits as selected by a team of scientists led by astronomer, astrophysicist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl Sagan.
Now a California-based team has launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a vinyl version in time for the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches in late August next year.
Pescovitz says “In a time when we spend so much of our lives in mediated experiences, we wanted to create something beautiful and tangible that embodies the spirit and magic of the original golden record that right now is 13 billion miles away from this planet. With the other one right on its tail.”
The hard work was done in the 1970s
The original records are gold-plated copper disks, packaged inside aluminum cases, designed to survive for a billion years. Just a dozen copies were made, and even fewer are available for public perusal at places like the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
How do you decide what to put on an album for the consumption of an unknown life form? Dr. Sagan, who died in 1996, called it a “bottle cast into the cosmic ocean.”
He had a lot of help, including from the creative director of the project, Ann Druyan, who later married Sagan.
Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images as well as about 90 minutes of music, ranging from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, to selections like a 2,500-year-old Chinese folk song called “Flowing Stream.”
Sagan wrote a book about the Golden Record, called Murmurs of Earth, which is considered definitive. But a complete copy of the compilation you can hold in your grubby hands has not been issued since a CD-ROM in 1992 by Warner News Media.
“This was intended as a gift from humanity to the cosmos,” Pescovitz says. “But it’s also a gift to humanity: a reminder of what we can do when we are at our best. That reminder is perhaps more necessary and relevant today than it was even then.”
Collecting the music and photography rights constitutes the biggest challenge. Pescovitz teamed up with Timothy Daly, a manager at Amoeba Music in San Francisco, and Lawrence Azerrad, a graphic designer who has created packaging for Miles Davis, The Beach Boys, Wilco and others.
“This was one of the more utopian endeavors of humanity,” says Azerrad, noting the golden record left out the ugly bits of human experience, like war and famine. That may have something to do with the record’s enduring appeal.
“In a lot of ways, it embodies a type of thinking much harder to find in today’s world. We’ve kind of lost that aspiration to look at who we are as a human race.”
Golden Record Take Two
Pescovitz and company aren’t the only ones inspired by the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches.
Jon Lomberg, the design director for the original project, is spearheading another, this one to be crowd-sourced. Called One Earth, the idea is to transmit the message to New Horizons, another NASA spacecraft headed out of the solar system. “The whole world has changed so much since the 1970s,” Lomberg says. Why not put out something that reflects the ways we have changed since then?