By Emily Carney
In 1977, two separate US spacecraft, Voyager I and Voyager II, were sent into space to explore the solar system and, ostensibly, any worlds that perhaps existed beyond the one with which we are most familiar.
Both Voyagers were essentially spidery-looking robotic space probes outfitted with cameras and other scientific equipment; both missions were extremely successful in sending back photographs, utterly striking in detail, of the solar system’s planets. For the first time, we earthlings saw Jupiter’s “red storm” up close rather than through the murky lens of telescopes. It gives me a huge sense of pride that NASA did this sort of mission, and did it first.
Additionally, on both spacecraft, a “golden record” plated with copper and containing a trace amount of a uranium isotope were present. Remember, this was 1977 so it wasn’t a compact disc or an MP3, although an eight track cassette would have no doubt been hilarious and completely unplayable to worlds beyond (and eventually to those on Earth as well). The Voyager Golden Record immediately entered into a sort of space-age infamy, reserved for nerds like me who were obsessed with Carl Sagan.
This record contained 116 images (pretty amazing technology for the time period) and “natural earth” sounds like the sea, terrestrial wind, and various greetings in foreign languages (assuming extraterrestrial life would understand “Thank you” in French, German, and Swahili). These golden discs were seen less as a way to speak to possible extraterrestrial beings and more as a curio or “time capsule” of the space age.
Interestingly, Voyager I and II, as I am writing this, are still sending transmissions to earth after 33 years; I believe both are at the edge of the galaxy. Recently, an anonymous group calling themselves “The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in Exile” (or SETI-X) claimed to have received transmissions back from the Voyager spacecraft, believed to be remixes of the Golden Record.
The resulting recordings, being released as Scrambles of Earth, consist of truly interplanetary sounding squiggles, bleeps, beeps, disembodied voices, and ambient noises which might have some kind of origin in space. This recording would be most interesting to fans of ambient or electronic music (mostly classic “experimental” electronic music, like Wendy Carlos’ 1960s Moog workouts) and complete space nerds like myself who are obsessed with 1970s NASA missions of any sort.
It’s amazing what can happen to a space robot in 33 years.
Also, for you fellow space nerds out there, Voyager II has its own Twitter page where you can track how far it is in light-years from Earth and from its sister ship, Voyager I. For the official Voyager website, go here.