In 1977, the NASA came up with an amazing project: integrating within its soon-to-be-launched space probes (Voyager 1 and 2) a gold-plated phonograph record depicting life on Earth. As the spacecraft’s extended mission (after a flyby of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) was to, over time, explore interstellar space, the idea was that any extra-terrestrial form of life who’d encounter it could, perhaps, understand us.
Various sounds from Earth have thus been included. Greetings in several languages, both modern and ancient – Carl Sagan’s son Nick, aged 6, famously recorded “Hello from the children of planet Earth”; printed messages from the former UN Secretary Kurt Waldheim and Jimmy Carter (which unfortunately did not start with “Hello from the adults of planet Earth); sounds of wind, heartbeats, trains, laughter, thunder and so forth, as well as diverse animal cries.
Some pieces of music were also included, especially traditional songs portraying cultural habits. It is said that Carl Sagan tried to get the Beatles’ hit Here Comes the Sun along, too, but that the band’s label EMI refused. Their music is already out of this world anyway.
Plus, the golden record included more than a hundred images, reflecting what science taught us about ourselves: the DNA structure, a human skeleton, a diagram of conception (censored for aliens under 18), but also wild animals, ritual dances, well-known monuments and famous places, as well as everyday reprezentations of terrestrial life. Of course, instructions to play the record correctly were brought along.
The Voyager spacecraft carrying the golden record is nowadays the farthest human-made object in the universe. The twin space probes keep on sending signals to Earth and probably still have a decade of activity ahead – electrical power loads are incrementally turned off so that both can keep running – but they’ve already led mankind another step further, beyond what was once believed unreachable. And still going.
Up there journeys a little part of our everyday, a present from the inhabitants of the ‘pale blue dot’, thrown into the unknown of cosmic vastness.