If aliens exist then one day they might come across a package of golden disks sent to them from Earth, and wonder to themselves, “What’s on the Voyager golden disks?” Of course, there’s a number of people back here on Earth who don’t know what the disks in question contain. Back in 1977, legendary cosmologist Carl Sagan was behind an initiative to attach a pair of golden phonograph records to the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, which would soon be launched into space on an unending journey. Although the craft wasn’t aimed at any particular star, the Voyagers were intended to continue traveling in a straight line away from Earth for tens of thousands of years, which gave them the best chance yet of any manmade objects to actually encounter sentient aliens. Sagan wanted to make sure that humanity was well-represented if such an encounter were to occur.
The Golden Records were intended to explain to our extraterrestrial friends what human beings are all about, and to connect with them through the shared language of science. However, for obvious reasons, Sagan and other NASA officials had no desire to let aliens in on humanity’s many struggles, like nuclear weaponry, pollution, and prejudice. Instead, the Records served as a “Greatest Hits” album of homo sapiens’ top accomplishments.
The Laughter Of Carl Sagan
The contents of the Golden Records were crafted by a committee put together by NASA, and that committee was chaired by Carl Sagan, the legendary cosmologist and scientific personality. Sagan’s personal stake in the project is apparent throughout the records, and he put a lot of himself into the content - literally, in one instance. A mysterious yet hearty laugh was included, but nobody seemed to know whose it was. Finally, in 2017, a writer for The Atlantic finally traced the source, and it was Sagan himself.
- Photo: Nick Sagan
A Very Special Message From Carl Sagan’s Son
For the section entitled “Greetings in 55 Languages,” NASA intended to have various UN delegates record the greetings, but something happened to those recordings, so the committee was forced to improvise. Most of the greetings ended up being recorded by members of Cornell University’s foreign language departments. For the English greeting, however, Carl Sagan chose a very special individua - his son Nick, who said, “Hello from the children of planet Earth.” Nick eventually grew up to become a popular science-fiction writer.
A Recording Of Ann Druyan’s Brainwaves
Writer Ann Druyan was named as the director of NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Message Project, and the experience changed her life in more ways than one. While putting together the Golden Records, Druyan met and fell in love with her future husband, Carl Sagan. Druyan also volunteered her brainwaves to the project, which were conveyed as an hour-long recording of her EEG. She would later describe the experience in poetic terms, saying that, “I had a one-hour mental itinerary of the information I wished to convey. I began by thinking about the history of Earth and the life it sustains. To the best of my abilities I tried to think something of the history of ideas and human social organization. I thought about the predicament that our civilization finds itself in and about the violence and poverty that make this planet a hell for so many of its inhabitants. Toward the end I permitted myself a personal statement of what it was like to fall in love.”
The “Sounds Of Earth” Sound Effect Collection
Once all the official greetings and procedural stuff was out of the way, the Golden Records got to the real entertainment - The Sounds of Earth, a collection of various sound effects. Included among the assortment were items like vehicle noises, animal calls, and the human heartbeat. Specifically, the section includes a recording of both a wild and a tame dog, to showcase how good humans are at domestication, and a message in Morse Code, which read, “Through hardships to the stars.”