Who speaks for Earth?.
Launched in 1977 for a one way trip to expand human knowledge, The Voyager spacecrafts eventually diverged to places outside our solar system. Visiting worlds never seen with detail before, Voyager 1 and 2 made huge contributions to our scientific understanding of all the giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn, reaching Uranus and Neptune as well as sending information about their 48 moons. The 2 spacecrafts took tens of thousands of pictures supporting the discovery among other things, active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and intricacies of Saturn’s rings. Since the mission of the Voyagers is a one way trip, after passing by Jupiter, Saturn and other planets the spacecrafts drifted away to interstellar space (the region between the stars). by the time of writing this article Voyager 1 is 14 billion Miles away from Earth (22 billion Kilometers). With the help of the United Nations, NASA compiled and placed an ambitious message aboard the 2 spacecrafts. A Golden Record for each spacecraft with a collection of diagrams, audio, pictures… .
So what’s on the Record ? why is it important ? who is this for anyways ?
The Record contained among other things, greetings in 59 human languages and 1 whale language, 116 pictures, 90 minutes of Earth’s greatest hits (Eastern and Western, Classical and Folk). Rock and Roll fans would be reassured that Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” is still travelling among the stars, Who knows ? maybe one day Rock and Roll will break the deafening silence of the Cosmos and it will tell a story about what homo-sapiens found enjoyable!. The Voyagers also included letters from top officials. Kurt Waldheim the Secretary- General of the United Nations at the time wrote:
“ I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate.”
Jimmy Carter the 39ᵗʰ president of the United States also included an optimistic letter in the Golden Record.
However ambitious or aspired we get about a response, and unlike other messages, this one was not written for the other side. It’s story about ourselves, who we are and what makes us human. A message for ourselves, a reminder of how close and connected we are, as well as a statement of belonging. A small golden piece, to which everyone can relate to. Thrown in the cosmic sea like a love letter inside a bottle. We may not expect a reply, but it’s something that needed to be said.
If you happen to have any doubts about whether this record will actually be decoded by some smarter species in the far future, it is important for you to realize that once our species becomes extinct, whether from global warming nuclear wars or even (a more relatable reason) a pandemic, that small piece will present the museum of humanity. It will tell its founders who we were are and possibly be.
When we all become mute, this record will tell a tale about a species who have feared its close surroundings, but grew up to send man made machines billions and billions of miles away from Home. In the final days of our species lives we can be sure that everyone we loved, saw, heard of, along with every smile, kiss, touch, footstep, smell from a rose, moment of gratitude, feeling of pride, tear or hug as well as all of our achievements, aspirations and feelings are captured in that 30 cm radius record. It’s quite reassuring that somewhere there’s a flying museum holding our stories, free, roaming space waiting to be explored. Even if we suppress our feelings of wanting to be remembered, in my submission, this was a well needed exercise that taught us more about unity than anything humanity has ever done.
In the context of death and extinction, a lot of people have reported hearing the voices of their deceased relatives, some even expressed gaining a lot of emotional comfort if they feel like their mother or father is still there with them. For our case it’s a bit different, we want to be reassured before we go away. If you’re a bit of a self-centered individual and you find the extinction of our species is a bit hard to think of, maybe if NASA announced that an asteroid the same size as the one which ended the rule of the Dinosaurs will surely make an impact with Earth in 30 days, all of this effort will make a bit of sense. We are often baffled by influential authors, some of them spoke argued and created fantasies affected by their times, others however, wrote for the future. The Golden Record is an attempt to tell our stories for potential listeners billions and billions of years later, after we faded away.
One day, In the deafening silence of cosmic darkness, a Voyager spacecraft will crash or will be captured by someone, decoding the symbols and locating Earth from the Record will be a piece of cake, a wide 2 centimeter spot of pure Uranium-238 was put in the record as a chemical stopwatch (it takes 4.5 billion years for half of the Uranium to decay telling the recipients how much time has passed since the launch of the Voyage spacecraft).
After locating Earth from the record, and after getting mesmerized by the lessons humanity had to undertake to reach the farthest stars using the pictures from the record, it will take a matter of moments for the explorers to play it. Soon enough, using their advanced machines the withdrawal of data from this monumentally ancient artifact was underway. Suddenly some fast electric licks rocked whatever senses might be there, puzzled by the weird noise, this didn’t prepare any of those present for what’s about to come, a foreign creature starts speaking in some language following the rhyme of an instrument with a beat. Curious about what’s being uttered, they quickly popped 2 screens up, the right screen displayed the translation of this ancient melody and the other one displayed the following words:
Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play a guitar just like a-ringin’a bell
Go Johnny, go!, go!
Go Johnny go!, go!
Go Johnny go!, go!
Go Johnny go!, go!
Johnny B. Goode…
So if we ever wondered who can speak for Earth, we have an answer now…
The cover of the Voyager Golden Record by Vox.com
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