Published Aug 18, 2017 at 7:40 AM | Updated at 10:46 AM PDT on Aug 18, 2017
Forty years ago this month, twin Voyager spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying sounds and music of our planet ever deeper into the cosmos -- just in case anyone way out there is listening.
Each spacecraft carries a 12-inch, gold-plated copper phonograph record -- there were no CDs back then and MP3s were on a distant horizon. Those records have sounds and songs that are like messages in a bottle placed in the ocean, waiting to be found so they can share our story, perhaps with a distant civilization. The sounds include Beethoven's Fifth, chirping crickets, a baby's cry, a kiss, wind and rain, a thunderous moon rocket launch, African pygmy songs, Solomon Island panpipes, a Peruvian wedding song and greetings in dozens of languages. There are also more than 100 electronic images on each record showing 20th-century life, traffic jams and all.
The records were placed aboard Voyage due in large part to late astronomer Carl Sagan. When NASA agreed, he about two months to put everything together. The 55 greetings for the Voyager Golden Records were collected at Cornell University, where Sagan taught astronomy, and the United Nations in New York. The music production fell to science writer Timothy Ferris, a friend of Sagan living then in New York.
For the musical selections, Ferris and Sagan recruited friends along with a few professional musicians. They crammed in 90 minutes of music recorded at half-speed; otherwise it would have lasted just 45 minutes. Beethoven, Bach and Mozart were easy picks. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven represented jazz, Blind Willie Johnson gospel blues. For the rock 'n' roll single, the group selected Chuck Berry's 1958 hit "Johnny B. Goode." Bob Dylan was a close runner-up, and the Beatles also rated high. Elvis Presley's name came up (Presley died four days before Voyager 2's launch). In the end, Ferris thought "Johnny B. Goode" best represented the origins and creativity of rock 'n' roll.
Ferris still believes it's "a terrific record" and he has no "deep regrets" about the selections.
"It's like handfuls of diamonds. If you're concerned that you didn't get the right handful or something, it's probably a neurotic problem rather than anything to do with the diamonds," Ferris told the AP earlier this week.
Take a look back at the making of Voyager's golden record in these August 1977 photos.