In 1977, two space probes — the Voyager 1 and 2 — were launched to explore the outer planets of our solar system. After sending some of the most spectacular images and information of those bodies beyond Mars, including snapshots full of beauty and meaning like the “Family Portrait“ that contained the “Pale Blue Dot” upon which we all live, the Voyagers kept going “where no man has gone before”.
Today, along with the Pioneer probes launched shortly before, they are the farthest human artifacts from Earth. And they are still traveling, like bottles released on the sea of the cosmos, because they contain a message addressed to the improbable, but just possible event that an intelligent alien being may find them.
On the Voyagers, those messages are encoded on a golden plated record, like the old vinyl records. Correctly decoded, with the instruments attached and following the instructions engraved on its face, the disc will reveal several sounds and even images about the civilization of naked apes that built the gadget.
Clicking on the image above you can check a nice multimedia website with most of those sound and images, going from salutations in Chinese to rock and roll: it includes “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. A small touch by late astronomer Carl Sagan, who motivated and coordinated the creation of this message.
And speaking of rock, you may also watch a videoclip by the Strokes for “You Only Live Once“, which mix Kubrick’s Space Odyssey and the Voyager golden disc: At the beginning of the videoclip there’s a nuclear Armageddon. And by seeing the images and sound launched in 1977, we cannot help but to feel one of the main concerns behind it. It was actually a message to ourselves.
“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“, then president Carter addressed the extraterrestrials, expressing the real fear that the message may long outlive our own civilization.
The last part of Carter’s message, “so we may live into yours“, is implicitly, though certainly unintentionally, threatening, which would be used in a nice science fiction story. Though the chances the golden disc may be retrieved and decoded by intelligent alien beings is remote, it surely can and must be decoded by intelligent terrestrial beings.