The Voyager Record

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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The Voyager spacecraft are the third and fourth human artifacts to escape entirely from the solar system. Pioneers 10 and 11, which preceded Voyager in outstripping the gravitational attraction of the Sun, both carried small metal plaques identifying their time and place of origin for the benefit of any other spacefarers that might find them in the distant future. With this example before them, NASA placed a more ambitious message aboard Voyager I 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. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. 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 55 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 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 second. 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 95 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 were beyond the orbit of Pluto), they will find themselves in empty space. It will be forty thousand years before they come within a light year of a star, called AC + 79 3888, and millions of years before either might 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."

In my view, the Voyager artifacts will eventually be recovered by an interstellar spacefaring civilization - us. In several centuries, when our travels have taken us far beyond the Voyagers, we will recover them and put them in the Smithsonian or its remote descendant. Or maybe we will allow them to travel on and humans with a historical interest will go visit them like we now visit Independence Hall or the Acropolis.

Languages on Voyager Record

Sumerian Cantonese Spanish Hindi Turkish Armenian Marathi
Swedish Kannada Akkadian Russian Indonesian Vietnamese Nyanja
Welsh Polish Ukrainian Telugu Thai Hittite Korean
Kechua Sinhalese Italian Netali Persian Oriya Punjabi
Hebrew Arabic Dutch Greek Nguni Mandarin Urdu
English French Bengali Japanese Wu Ila (Zambia) Burmese
Amoy (Min dialect) Portuguese Rajasthani Serbian Hungarian Aramaic Czech
Roumanian German Latin Sotho Gujorati Luganada

Sounds of Earth on Voyager Record

Whales Birds Laughter Riveter Tractor
Kiss Planets (music) Hyena Fire Morse code
Volcanoes Elephant Tools Truck Baby
Ships Auto gears Life signs-EEG, EKG Mud pots Chimpanzee
Dogs. domestic Horse and cart Jet Rain Wild dog
Herding sheep Horse and carriage Lift-off of Saturn 5 rocket Pulsar Surf
Footsteps and heartbeats Blacksmith shop Train whistle Crickets, frogs Sawing

Photographs on Voyager Record

Calibration circle Solar location map Mathematical definitions
Physical unit definitions Solar system parameters The Sun
Solar spectrum Mercury Mars
Jupiter Earth Space view of Egypt, Red Sea, Sinai Peninsula and the Nile
Chemical definitions DNA structure DNA structure magnified
Cells and cell division Anatomy (eight) Human sex organs
Diagram of conception Conception Fertilized ovum
Fetus diagram Fetus Diagram of male and female
Birth Nursing mother Father and daughter (Malaysia)
Group of children Diagram of family ages Family portrait
Diagram of continental drift Structure of Earth Heron Island (Great Barrier Reef of Australia)
Seashore Snake River and Grand Tetons Sand dunes
Monument Valley Forest scene with mushrooms Leaf
Fallen leaves Sequoia Snowflake
Tree with daffodils Flying insect with flowers Diagram of vertebrate evolution
Seashell (Xancidae) Dolphins School of fish
Tree toad Crocodile Eagle
Waterhold Jane Goodall and chimps Sketch of Bushmen
Bushmen hunters Man from Guatemala Dancer from Bali
Andean girls Thailand craftsman Elephant
Old man with beard and glasses (Turkey) Old man with dog and flowers Mountain climber
Cathy Rigby Sprinters Schoolroom
Children with globe Cotton harvest Grape picker
Supermarket Underwater scene with diver and fish Fishing boat with nets
Cooking fish Chinese dinner party Demonstration of licking, eating and drinking
Great Wall of China House construction (African) Construction scene (Amish country)
House (Africa) House (New England) Modern house (Cloudcroft, New Mexico
House interior with artist and fire Taj Mahal English city (Oxford)
Boston UN Building, day UN Building, night
Sydney Opera House Artisan with drill Factory interior
Museum X-ray of hand Woman with microscope
Street scene, Asia (Pakistan) Rush hour traffic, India Modern highway (Ithaca)
Golden Gate Bridge Train Airplane in flight
Airport (Toronto) Antarctic expedition Radio telescope (Westerbork, Netherlands)
Radio telescope (Arecibo) Page of book (Newton, System of the World) Astronaut in space
Titan Centaur launch Sunset with birds String quartet (Quartetto Italiano)
Violin with music score (Cavatina)

Musical Selections on Voyager Record


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Created 8 April 1998, Last Update 1 May 2000

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