Back in 1986, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (his wife and co-creator of Cosmos) sent Chuck Berry the above birthday card.
In the letter, Sagan and Druyan reflect on the fact that a phonograph record of Berry's 'Johnny B. Goode' had been placed aboard the Voyager spacecraft when it launched in 1977, as part of the Voyager Golden Records project. (via).
"Voyager 1 and 2-a kind of time capsule," intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. The Voyager message is carried by a phonograph record-a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth" (via).
The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, et. al. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim. Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle.
Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played. The 115 images are encoded in analog form. The remainder of the record is in audio, designed to be played at 16-2/3 revolutions per minute. It contains the spoken greetings, beginning with Akkadian, which was spoken in Sumer about six thousand years ago, and ending with Wu, a modern Chinese dialect.
Following the section on the sounds of Earth, there is an eclectic 90-minute selection of music, including both Eastern and Western classics and a variety of ethnic music. Once the Voyager spacecraft leave the solar system (by 1990, both will be beyond the orbit of Pluto), they will find themselves in empty space. It will be forty thousand years before they make a close approach to any other planetary system.
As Carl Sagan has noted, "The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet" (via).
It isn't likely that the Voyager will find life anytime soon, but if or when it does, the Golden Record will be more of a time capsule of a time where Earth lived without iPhones, Beyonce, or many of us.
But whoever or whatever finds it will then have Mozart, and Johny B. Goode'. And I think they'll be impressed. Even if they have something cooler than iPhones.
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