The Golden Record

As we remain locked inside our suddenly shrunken world by the very real threat of our worldwide pandemic, I am comforted and made hopeful that there are amongst us dreamers with visions of possibilities for life way beyond our current circumscribed circumstance. One gift of our altered daily schedules is the increased time available for reading, and for allowing our minds to wander freely beyond our own space and time. I just finished an article in the Harvard Magazine about the work of Alexander Rehding, professor of music at Harvard. He is currently writing about the Golden Record, launched by NASA in the summer of 1977, aboard Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 with the mission of exploring the unexplored. Having already landed on the Moon, scientists at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories wanted to push beyond the outer planets of our solar system, and into interstellar space. Taking their cue from Gene Roddenberry to “boldly go where no man has gone before”, the scientists had affixed to each Voyager a golden record. Escaping the sun’s gravitational pull, by 2030 the vehicles will have been drained of electricity, and will lose all contact with Earth. However, the message they carry, The Golden Record, may someday be received by an alien intelligence, who will be privileged with Earth’s greatest hits. The record contains selections from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.2 and his third Partita for solo violin. It has the Queen of Night’s aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, along with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the sacrificial dance from Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”. It features Blind Willie Johnson, Louis Armstrong, and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Alongside these classics are Senegalese percussion, rock-‘n’-roll gamelan, Navajo chants, Australian aboriginal songs, Mexican mariachi music and Georgian choral singing to round out selections of World Music.

There are instructions drawn on the Golden Record’s cover that detail how to play it. A pulsar map on the case also shows Earth’s location.

It will take tens of thousands of years for Voyager to reach planets theoretically capable of sustaining intelligent life. And if discovered, will whatever life form that finds the record be able to figure out how to play it? What if they don’t have ears with which to hear? None of these possibilities daunted the folks at JPL, and for that, I’m profoundly grateful. We all need to live with hope. There is that within us which makes us human that wants to, needs to, reach out to another, to make connection, to say “I am here. This is me.” In times especially like these, we need to live with hope, to keep reaching out, to send forth our messages in bottles, looking for connection.

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11 Responses to The Golden Record

  1. Corkywk says:

    Being a big Carl Sagan fan, I’m fascinated by the Voyager probes that are still functioning and on-route in the vastness of space — Some 43 years later!

    Carl Sagan was, among many other things, a consultant and adviser to NASA in the 1950s. He actually briefed the Apollo astronauts before their flights to the Moon. Earlier he helped design and manage the Mariner and Viking missions and of course the Voyager missions you talk about here with the Golden Records.

    Want to see in real time where the two voyagers are — right this second? Click the link below! Pretty cool stuff. Live NASA Mission Control for Voyager 1 and 2.

  2. Hope is everything, so is making connections. Thanks for this post. It is very important to try because so many are already giving up the fight and just letting things go bad . The battle with COVID 19 is not over but rather it has just began . People taught , “it’s over in 3 months, we reopened .” No it’s not, all the more we stay vigilant and lead by example . Stay safe my friend and keep giving us hope, we all need it.

  3. A uniquely fascinating blog… and your posts are crafted to perfection!

  4. timfergudon says:

    What a wonderful message of hope…. certainly kindled my goosebumps!! To imagine the possibilities truly boggles the mind and my heart!! Thank you. 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone

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