When NASA sent the Voyager into space 30 years ago, it contained record albums intended for alien consumption.
As annoying as hippies can be, it's strangely comforting to think that the one bit of junk we shot into deep space is emblazoned with a hippie symbol. I'm talking about the golden records screwed onto the shells of Voyagers I and II, two space probes that completely changed our understanding of the solar system and then shot out into deep space bearing record albums intended for alien consumption.
Last week marked the 30th anniversary of the Voyager II launch. While most people recall the Voyager probes for creating close-up photographs and atmospheric readings from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, these probes were always intended to do more than send messages back home for human consumption.
In the mid-1970s, when the Voyager spacecraft were being completed, pop cosmologist Carl Sagan convinced NASA to include a message from Earth on the probes. They were to bring news of us to alien beings in the unknowable reaches of the galaxy and beyond.
In consultation with a bunch of other geeks (including Timothy Ferris, who produced the album), Sagan decided that the delivery mechanism for this message should be a golden record, packaged with a cartridge and needle, as well as abstract mathematical instructions for how fast to spin the disc and at what frequencies it would emit sound. You can listen to the entire recording at goldenrecord.org, and the experience is bittersweet, an auditory glimpse of a very different time in human history.
The tracks include greetings in dozens of languages, including ancient Sumerian, which of course nobody knows how to pronounce anymore. And Gaia help us, there is also a "whale greeting." There is a track devoted to "Earth sounds," all which sound totally cool while remaining unrecognizable as particularly Earthly. There are over a dozen music recordings from around the world, all of which are written (and mostly performed) by men.