Voyager lifted off 35 years ago


There may be few experiences more mysterious and alluring than walking along a shoreline and stumbling upon an ancient message in a bottle -- something cast intentionally, that traveled a long way for a long time, delivered by fate.

Now imagine it on a cosmic scale, because 35 years ago mankind sent two such identical messages aboard the Voyager spacecraft. Their missions are to explore the outer planets and moons of our solar system. Both sent back images and data that we still study, today. By 1990, Voyager I had traveled four billion miles -- so far that it could fit all of our entire solar system into one photograph.

As astronomer Carl Sagan showed us back then, a photo of Jupiter, Saturn, and a speck almost invisible in a lens flare. He said the speck was, "This is where we live... on a blue dot. That's where everyone you know and everyone you ever heard of, and every human being ever lived, lived out their lives."

The Voyagers will likely to be the farthest flung, longest existing objects ever made by man. Their destiny is to travel for all eternity between the stars, which leads to a question: what if someone found them? The answer is the Voyager golden records.

"The idea behind the Voyager record was to put an artifact on the spacecraft that would tell more about us than could be deduced by looking at the spacecraft itself," said science writer Timothy Ferris of San Francisco.

Ferris has written a dozen books and countless articles, but back in the 1970's he worked with Sagan in producing the records for those spacecraft.

"The only record I ever produced was the Voyager interstellar record. Only two copies of it were made and they were both flung entirely out of the solar system," said Ferris.

The Golden Records look like any other LP, except that they're etched in copper and plated in gold. The packages contain a stylus and basic instructions that a space-faring civilization ought be able to decode. Then they get really interesting.

"If you came upon an artifact that included photographs, voices, music, sent by beings, who perhaps lived a long time ago on another planet, about whom you had no prior knowledge, wouldn't you be fascinated by that?" said Ferris.

The records includes greeting in every language and music ranging from Chuck Berry to the classics. They have images of our planet, our biology, our everyday life. They are time capsules of humanity through the 1970s. As simple as messages in a bottles.

"When I was a boy in Florida, I actually once came upon a bottle with a note in it and this is the same thing, except that instead of being in the ocean, it is thrown out into the depths interstellar space," said Ferris.

There are two spacecraft on an anniversary drifting. The odds that they'll be discovered... infinitesimally small... but there's always a chance.

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