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Tag Archive: Voyager golden record


Review by C.J. Bunce

Once every 176 years a window opens whereby humans can send spacecraft in a trajectory that would include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.  Scientists knew of this pathway for centuries and the time for this window was approaching as 1970 arrived.  To act, with achievements in rocketry, aeronautical science, and experience in space travel, decisions needed to made quickly.  When President Richard Nixon was told this–and that the last President who could have done this, Thomas Jefferson, missed his opportunity–Nixon authorized the creation of two spacecraft to make the journey at a cost of about $1 billion.  The result is considered by many scientists to be the greatest space mission ever devised by humans.  The information recorded on the grooves of the accompanying golden records will survive intact for at least a billion years, making ours the first generation to create something that will not only outlive us, but will outlive our star.

One of the highlights of the year from NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and PBS that we previewed in January here at borg.com has arrived.  An excellent, and surprisingly poignant and even epic journey of exploration as exciting as any voyage you’ve ever read about or seen awaits you in PBS’s new documentary The Farthest–Voyager in Space.  You will be hard-pressed (and must be made of some substance not found on this planet) to watch this film and not find yourself joining the Voyager project members in shedding a tear or two as you follow along in the amazement and surprising emotion of the Voyager missions, their euphoric highs and nearly devastating lows.  Should it surprise us that scientists and retired scientists saw their mission as so personal and yet so global in scope, to get so emotional when discussing the Voyager probes 40 years since they left the Earth?  Individual experts in all aspects of science, from NASA engineers to imaging specialists, describe their creation in terms like they would a child sent off into the unknown, never to return, but that would keep sending postcards and messages home for decades to come.

The film’s journey chronicles benchmarks of the Voyager spacecrafts as the individual scientists who were there from conception of the idea in 1972 to the 1977 launch of the first ship, Voyager II–which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year–to its arrival at Jupiter and Saturn, to Voyager I’s arrival at Uranus and Neptune, to its emergence beyond the magnetic bubble that defines our solar system and entering interstellar space and beyond.   The probes were the first manmade objects to do many things, among them the first to observe volcanic activity outside of Earth, to discover moons which may contain life, and to leave our solar system.  The Voyager space records that humans have been so fascinated with since 1974 are explored in the film, too, as well as the afterparty attended by Chuck Berry, whose “Johnny B. Goode” continues its voyage into the unknown every day.  Standing in for Carl Sagan–who directed the creation of the two physical Voyager records (plus a few extras to keep for Earthlings) and their contents in less than six weeks–is his son Nick Sagan, whose greeting to possible alien life as a young boy was included on the records.

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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 setThe book alone is also available and is inexpensive despite being long out of print.

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