Where are they now?
After spending nearly 11,000 workyears on the Voyager space program so far, or one-third of the estimated effort required to build the great pyramid at Giza, the Voyager space probes are currently in the “Heliosheath” – the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas, more than 19 billion miles from Earth for Voyager 1, and 9.5 billion miles from Earth for Voyager 2. Thirty-nine years ago this past August 22, Voyager 2 was launched and a few weeks later on September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 was launched. Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network (DSN), according to NASA.
The focus of the original mission for the Voyager probes was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making several discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and photographing the intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended, with Voyager 2 going on to explore Uranus and Neptune–the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets. The current mission–Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM)–is exploring the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain. In 2008 the probes were two of only a handful of objects that man had successfully sent beyond the edge of our solar system.
What the Voyager program did that no other program has done is send a distinct and comprehensive message to be intercepted at some point by a hopefully intelligent and friendly lifeform somewhere beyond our own solar system. The means was a golden record and record player. The music and sounds found on that record are the subject of a current Kickstarter campaign, seeking to release an LP version of the Voyager record to the public for the first time. Back in the 1980s you could buy a limited box set that included the book Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record (an indispensable Voyager reference) as well as a CD of the complete music, languages and sounds and a CD-ROM of the photos included on the space record. We first discussed the golden record and CD-ROM set here at borg.com five years ago. Sagan’s Murmurs of Earth book and disc set is still available from time to time at Amazon from $100 on up for the deluxe set. The book alone is also available and is inexpensive despite being long out of print.
Back around 1998 my wife and I attended a superb Carl Sagan memorial concert by the Oregon Symphony, hosted by Sagan’s widow, and Voyager project member Ann Druyan. It was a performance of key pieces from the record that accompanied the Voyager space probes (and that inspired V’ger, the “villain” of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and was released as an action figure accessory). The concert sought to answer the question: How do you select a limited sampling of the music of Earth for a recipient outside our universe? The music selected was quite eclectic and attempted to be a diverse assemblage.
The Kickstarter campaign, launched by Ozma Records, is asking $98 for each boxed set of its final product, which must be ordered by October 21, 2016. It will feature a cloth-covered box with gold foil inlay housing three “heavyweight” translucent gold vinyl LPs protected by poly-lined paper sleeves. The LPs will contain all of the same music, greetings, and sounds as contained on the original Voyager record, nearly two hours of audio. Those records will slip into foil sleeves. The audio will be complemented by a hardbound book of images from the original interstellar message, photos of the planets returned to Earth from the Voyager probes, essays, and ephemera from the project’s history. Find out more about the Kickstarter and order your own set here. Project creators are optimistic that the final product will be shipped by next year’s 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches.
The original gold record was affixed to each probe and contained images and photos from Earth as well as a carefully selected group of music intended back in 1977 to reflect a broad range of world music, as well as spoken greetings in several languages. Then President Jimmy Carter’s voice can be heard on the album, stating: “This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”
Probably the most incredible part of the Voyager album’s history? A sample of the isotope uranium-238 is electroplated on the record’s cover. Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years and it was hoped an intelligent civilization that encounters the record a billion years from now could use the remaining uranium to determine the age of the record, and hence, the time our civilization existed.
The ongoing journey of the Voyager probes can be tracked at NASA’s website.
Every school library should have either the original book and CD set or the new LP edition, as these are incredible educational tools. What would you include on such a record to be sent to other worlds? This set also is interesting from a sociological perspective–it reflects what humans in the late 1970s viewed as important–making it the ultimate human time capsule. Undoubtedly, the disc would look very different were it created today.
Here are the musical selections on the Voyager records:
- Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
- Java, court gamelan, “Kinds of Flowers,” recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
- Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
- Zaire, Pygmy girls’ initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
- Australia, Aborigine songs, “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird,” recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
- Mexico, “El Cascabel,” performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
- “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:38
- New Guinea, men’s house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
- Japan, shakuhachi, “Tsuru No Sugomori” (“Crane’s Nest,”) performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
- Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
- Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
- Georgian S.S.R., chorus, “Tchakrulo,” collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
- Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
- “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
- Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
- Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
- Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
- Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
- Bulgaria, “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
- Navajo Indians, Night Chant, recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
- Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, “The Fairie Round,” performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. 1:17
- Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
- Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
- China, ch’in, “Flowing Streams,” performed by Kuan P’ing-hu. 7:37
- India, raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho,” sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
- “Dark Was the Night,” written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
- Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:37
From a production standpoint, the music is surprisingly strange to listen to in order. This is definitely an album for educational study more than one you’ll have playing in the background as you go on about your day, but it is a fascinating artifact of human history.