Call it Human Civilization 101 — a record that contains sounds, music, and images from Earth to teach extraterrestrials everything they needed to know about us. That’s NASA’s Golden Record, a precious album that was printed onto gold-plated copper disks and launched into space aboard the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft in 1977.
The two original records are still attached to the probes, which are traveling through space billions of miles from our planet. Only a dozen copies were made by NASA back then, but not even Carl Sagan, the Cornell astrophysicist who led the creation of the record, was able to get one. (NASA refused, saying that no record had been given to an individual who could resell it for big profit. President Jimmy Carter was the only individual to get a copy.)
Now, a Kickstarter campaign wants to bring the Golden Record back to our Earthlings’ hands, and it’s already passed its $198,000 goal by more than half a million dollars. This is the only Kickstarter project I’ve ever pledged for — and a for a simple reason. The idea of a record that could explain our intricate, beastly, yet amazing civilization to aliens in another galaxy gives me goosebumps.
I first read about the Golden Record when I was a kid. I was immediately fascinated. I imagined weird, scary-looking extraterrestrials in another world finding the record and listening to it, looking at the images, discovering humankind for the first time. But most of all I wondered: how do you explain all of life and culture on Earth in one record?
NASA chose to do that with 115 images and a variety of soundtracks — from Mozart and Peruvian wedding songs, to greetings in 55 languages, to whale vocalizations to the sound of rain, footsteps, and laughter. My very favorite song in the record was “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, which I listened to on repeat in my teenage years and was criticized as “adolescent” by some on the NASA committee selecting the record material. Sagan allegedly responded: “Well, there are a lot of adolescents on Earth, too.”
Here are some of the images included in the original Golden Record:
NASAS released a CD-ROM version of the Golden Record in 1992 and later published the record’s greetings and natural sounds on SoundCloud. The Kickstarter project plans to reissue the record on LPs made of vinyl and ship them next year, for the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches.
Both Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are now well beyond Pluto’s orbit, continuing their trip through interstellar space. It’ll be 40,000 years before they approach another planetary system, according to NASA. “The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space,” said Sagan, who died in 1996. “But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”