April 30, 2011

The poetic story of the Voyager spacecraft

Voyager's golden record cover.
There's a lovely story on physorg.com about Voyager 1 and 2, the spacecraft launched in 1977. It's not surprising that the tale is poetic -- after all, it involves Carl Sagan.

Voyager 1 and 2 were designed not only to provide scientific information about our solar system, but to act as ambassadors of the planet Earth. In this latter aspect, they are essentially greeting cards from the human race.

Nine months before the Voyagers were scheduled for launch, Carl Sagan was given the job of deciding what to put inside the spacecraft -- the collection of sights and sounds that might one day introduce the human race to aliens. They were pressed into the record you see above. And yes, it was covered in gold.

The article outlines Sagan's vision for the project and discusses some of the choices he made. One day, an intelligent alien civilization may encounter the Voyagers and learn of our existence -- and a bit about who we are (or were, if we have gone extinct by that time or evolved into something so different that we can't even imagine it now).

So what do you put aboard a small spacecraft to tell the tale of Earth and its people to a group of aliens? Read the story. It's marvelous, and not long. I miss Carl Sagan. No one has come close to replacing his enormous vision, intellect and kindness. We lost a great one when he died. But at this very moment, the Voyager spacecraft are leaving our solar system and heading into the universe beyond. I like to think that a few million years from now, an alien civilization will come to come to know and appreciate us -- and Sagan, by extension -- when they discover this time capsule. It's a fitting legacy for such a grand old man of science.


Artichoke Annie said...

Carl Sagan was one of a kind, I miss him as well. Now, having said that I ask you, whose idea was it to send the sound of a barking dog into space? I pity the alien that has to listen to that sound. If the idea behind is was to keep 'foreigners' away I think that purpose may have been served.

writenow said...

Agreed. And don't you get the impression that the same choices would not be made today? There was a lot of hippie thinking in that launch. I suspect if we sent a similar vehicle into space today, it would contain only photos of money and bibles, at least if the object was still to let them know who we are.

Artichoke Annie said...

If Doctor Vito ever get released, that's a question I would like to ask him... what would we send today?

writenow said...

Keep the faith, Annie. He will be freed!!!