The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record by Jonathan Scott
In 1977, NASA approved a team led by Carl Sagan to create a message representing Earth and humanity that would travel into deep space on the Voyager probe. The message would contain a playlist of music, sounds, and pictures; essentially it would be a mixtape introduction to Earth for any extraterrestrials that may discover the probe at some point in time.
“When a group of scientists, artists and writers gathered in Ithaca, New York, to begin work on the Voyager Golden Record, they were attempting to capture the soul of humanity in 90 minutes of music.” *
One of the first decisions to be made was how the message would be delivered as it needed to be preserved for a long period of time in the harsh elements of space. A record would allow a great deal of information to be preserved in a compact space and the groove could carry not just sound but also encoded photographs.
Next, there needed to be some basic criteria for selecting music and images. An important early decision was to avoid politics and religion (which would confuse extraterrestrials) and to skip artwork entirely; the music would be the art and the photographs would be the facts. Concerned that images of war and violence could be seen as a threat, the group decided to leave this part of history out of an introduction to extraterrestrials and instead promote Earth as seen “on a good day”.
The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record is a fascinating look at the group who created the record with insight into the music and photographs that were selected. The author conducted interviews with those directly involved in selecting the content on the Golden Record and compiled many facts from the testimony of the Voyager team found in Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, written in 1978, just months after the probe launch.
There is some “info-dumping” with scientific explanations that are at times overwhelming and/or confusing for readers with little-to-no background in the field (*ahem* that would be me!), Scott does an excellent job of discussing the facts in an entertaining and conversational way.
While The Vinyl Frontier focuses primarily on the music, it also gives readers a brief look into NASA’s opinion of the record and its message (and the one thing they didn’t want to send to ETs that could offend the American people… *spoiler alert: it was the female anatomy*) and what the U.S. government added at the last minute (*spoiler alert: it was a list of names of officials …because ETs will totally understand and appreciate four pages of names!*)
The Voyagers 1 and 2 both contain a copy of the Golden Record; a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk with an aluminum cover electroplated in uranium-238, which has a half life of almost 4.5 billions years.
I like to imagine extraterrestials finding the record sometime in the next billion years, understanding the mathematical instructions to play it, and hearing Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode for the first time in deep space.
Both Voyagers served us well, gathering data from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Nepture throughout the 1980’s. Now, they’re cruising in deep space, carrying a message that may someday be heard by intelligent life we cannot even begin to fathom.
“Both spacecraft are still beaming back information about their surrounding through the Deep Space Network. We are still receiving readings from these amazing machines, almost half a century after their launch, with instruments aboard enabling technicians and astronomers on Earth to study magnetic fields, investigate low-energy charged particles, cosmic rays, plasma, and plasmas waves. Both Voyagers are expected to keep at least one of their functioning instruments going into the mid-2020s.” *
If you’d like to see a list of all the images, music, sounds, and greetings on The Golden Record, along with photographs of its manufacturing, visit the link here.
Thanks to Bloomsbury Sigma and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record is scheduled for release on May 21, 2019.
*Quotes included are from a digital advance reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.