Happy Thanksgiving everyone! This year I am thankful for the Golden Record. Because if there is anything more symbolically enthusiastic about Nature and Science, I cannot think of it right this second.
Can’t talk about the Golden Record without talking about the famous Voyager probe sent into space in the 1977. There were two actually, named, shockingly, Voyager 1…..AND….Voyager 2. Whoa.
Remember the’70s? The only time when the phrase “the planets are aligned” actually meant something to anyone other than Virgos, because Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were shacking up for a planetary reunion that wouldn’t happen again for 176 years! A perfect time to toss a camera out the window and shoot pictures, relying on the gravity of one planet to propel it to the next – so cool.
NASA got to watch as images from the Voyagers were sent back, showing the planets in incredible detail. We knew so little about the outer planets until these probes. It’s the solar system equivalent of looking first through a peephole covered in cheesecloth and then opening the door. Like knowing about Russia from what Sarah Palin can see from her house, versus actually being in Russia. I HIGHLY recommend watching a documentary on these probes, because the scientists who were there are freaking out the entire time at the ridiculous influx of information that they would be studying for years to come.
34 years later, they’re still operational, though now they’re both chillin in the Heliosphere, which is the very edge of our solar neighborhood. That’s quality machinery. This is back when NASA must have also been making VCRs, which, if you’ve kept yours, you’ll notice are also still operational, unlike these piece of @!#$% dvd players of which I am on my third. Anyway…
What’s REALLY cool is what they’ve got hitchhiking on their sides.
The Voyager Golden Phonograph Record (which is actually gold-plated copper (so they’ll know what cheapskates we are) is a human time capsule for the interest and education of any aliens that might find it. There is a needle included and mathematical/visual instructions on the outside for how to play it.
Can you imagine?? It’s the ultimate mixed tape!! Okay, soundtrack to humanity, two hours, go. Epic much? Who would you expect to create such an important representation of Earth? Carl Sagan of course! Doesn’t that just spin you right round?
Sagan, et al compiled 115 color and b&w images, 2 hours of music samples, nature sounds like whales and thunder, and greetings spoken in 55 languages. (“Greetings organizer” = coolest title ever and belonged to then-wife of Carl Sagan, Linda. They had a son Nick Sagan, who went on to write several Star Trek Voyager episodes. It’s allllll connected….man.)
The images are hilarious, they’re so ’70s it’s great, straight out of a photo album. Included is kind of a Rosetta Stone of our mathematical symbols, makes sense. Oh but the pictures taken from space are so pathetic. Ironic, since the Voyager’s whole purpose was to take better pictures. They basically strapped the photos from a disposable point-and-shoot to the side of a Canon EOS and ejected it into space, hoping the aliens will find meaning from the point-and-shoot.
The music most known for being on the record is:
– Mozart (late 1700s, Austrian. Classical)
– Igor Stravinsky (early 1900s, Russian. Neoclassisism–which I still don’t understand really, I think it’s basically people in the 1900s trying to bring back classical. In this case, think epic ballet music)
– Guan Pinghu (early 1900s, Chinese guqin player (freaky Chinese instrument no doubt Made in China))
– Beethoven (late 1700s, German, Classical/Romantic)
– Chuck Berry (mid 1900s, American. Rock and roll)
Steve Martin did an SNL sketch as a psychic who predicts the aliens will send us back a message in four words: “Send More Chuck Berry”
Also included are Navajo chants, Aborigine songs, Louis Armstrong, Peruvian panpipes, etc. Check out the complete list here. And no they did not play Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” which would have been awesomely misleading. I was listening to the music as I wrote this, and you can too!
Really you gotta wonder if some embittered NASA janitor slapped on a separate record when no one was looking just to screw with them. A rainbow record bedazzled in sequins, encoded with a recipe for a twinkie, the music of a christmas carol sung in cat meows, images of pac-man, and the word for “diarrhea” and “pink” in 55 different languages. Figure that out, aliens.
A quote on the record from the then Secretary General of the United Nations:
…I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and its inhabitants are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.
I love that, to “be taught if we are fortunate.” I love this record, it’s such a statement- Look how incredibly awesome everything can be here, is there no one out there that can appreciate it?
The extreme unlikelihood of this record ever being received by extraterrestrials or still in a shape to be interpreted makes me love it all the more. Why the hell not, we should be proud, our planet rules, and What If, you know? I’ll drink to that. Happy Thanksgiving all.