Firstly – I had nothing to do with the invention or running of this project in any way. I just happened to work at the place that conceived, designed, built and operated the two Voyager Spacecraft. I was inspired by the Voyager Projects and all the invention the people of Jet Propulsion Laboratory did to make it a success.
Nevertheless, I think this is arguably the greatest achievement of humankind to date.
The story of both of the Voyager spacecrafts is told earlier in the Chapter “Brandenburg 23 Voyager.” Voyager 2 was actually launched 16 days before Voyager 1, but has taken a longer path to leaving the solar system. Voyager 1 (which passed Pioneer 10 in 1998 to become the most distant human-made object in space) left the solar system in August of 2012. Voyager2 is expected to leave the solar system about 3 years after Voyager 1.
Both carry the Golden Record on which the Brandenburg Concerto is the first music.
The Voyager spacecraft was launched in 1977 and carries on its side a gold record that is humankinds first “time capsule” sent in hopes of encountering and communicating with civilizations on planets other than our own. It embodies the hopes and dreams of the people of our planet, and offers the beauty of its music and art as examples of the best of who we are. The first music on the Golden Record is the Brandenburg Concerto – making it arguably the most important single piece of music ever recorded, and certainly a standard by which all other music can be judged. The version selected was performed by Karl Richter and the Munich Bach Orchestra.
From the JPL Voyager project Website
The twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft continue exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. In the 36th year after their 1977 launches, they each are much farther away from Earth and the Sun than Pluto. Voyager 1 and 2 are now in the “Heliosheath” – the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas. Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network (DSN).
The primary mission was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making a string of discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets. The adventurers’ current mission, the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM), will explore the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain. And beyond.
Pioneers 10 and 11, which preceded Voyager, 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 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.
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.
The definitive work about the Voyager record is “Murmurs of Earth” by Executive Director, Carl Sagan, Technical Director, Frank Drake, Creative Director, Ann Druyan, Producer, Timothy Ferris, Designer, Jon Lomberg, and Greetings Organizer, Linda Salzman. Basically, this book is the story behind the creation of the record, and includes a full list of everything on the record.
Excerpt from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Energy Independence – by Robert Danziger
JPL and Caltech Days
After graduating from law school, my professional career began at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. Home of the U.S. deep space exploration program, JPL was called upon to work its magic leading the alternative energy programs essential to winning the “moral equivalent of war” due to oil embargos and the deep recessions that followed.
The California Institute of Technology, popularly known as Caltech, is the “academic home” of Jet Propulsion Laboratory and runs it as a national laboratory, mostly for NASA. Caltech is one of the elite universities, like Stanford, MIT, and Harvard. It has a small enrollment of fewer than one thousand students and about the same number of teachers.
Einstein taught there, as did Linus Pauling, Richard Feynman, and Murray Gell-Mann. Nobel Prize winners get special parking places.
JPL has about six thousand employees, primarily space scientists and engineers, and it’s the place that managed the exploration of our solar system for the United States. Starting with the moon, JPL has sent satellites to all the planets, unless you include Pluto, which was demoted to a space rock and is no longer considered a planet.
JPL has taken incredible pictures and made amazing sound recordings of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Venus, Mercury, the sun, and now interstellar space.
Just a few years earlier (1970), the greatest environmental movement in history started when more than 90 percent of ALL the people in the United States ranked clean air and water in their top three political concerns after Apollo 8 took this picture:
The view of the earth from the moon brought home the fragility of the planet to people in ways that scientific studies and political rhetoric have never equaled. It was a shining moment of bipartisanship I’ve never seen again but still believe in.
Then, in the mid-1970s, a confluence of several events heightened the world’s awareness of energy and environment to levels never seen since. OPEC, after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, started choking off oil supplies to the United States. Actual gasoline shortages resulted in long lines of cars waiting to buy rationed gas. Oil prices skyrocketed, causing a severe recession combined with sky-high interest rates.
President Carter called the situation the “moral equivalent of war.” Seemingly impossible things needed to be achieved for victory in this war—energy independence and a clean environment coupled with prosperity. Solar energy had to be reduced in cost by 99 percent (by 2009, we were 94 percent of the way there) to compete with fossil fuels. A mass-producible electric and hybrid car had to be invented. Natural gas had to be produced from rocks like coal and shale. Giant windmills needed to sprout like cornfields. A thousand other ideas had to be examined, often tried, and then decisions had to be made about their future.
JPL, at that time, had never failed at accomplishing the impossible. Fly to the moon? Fly to Jupiter? Saturn? All done to perfection. Incredibly difficult scientific and engineering systems had to be invented, on a schedule, and had to work under the watchful eye of the people on earth. And JPL had never failed, unlike the other national labs, which had experienced a more normal failure rate.
With this national energy crisis, JPL was called upon to work its magic in interplanetary space exploration on the energy and environment problems of earth. JPL responded by undertaking lead responsibility for solar energy and the electric and hybrid vehicle, and was deeply involved in alternative fuels, underwater nuclear power plants, solar-powered satellites that could beam energy back to earth, and everything in between.
Like many, I dove into this national emergency, and suddenly found myself among JPL’s mix of academic and scientific elite who were trying to solve these problems. I had no undergraduate education, let alone a degree, and the highlight from my law school education was a professor giving me a B and commenting:
“That’s the highest grade I’ve ever given to anyone who didn’t actually attend my class.”
Nevertheless, it was the perfect start for a young kid just out of school to pursue the impossible dream of prosperity coupled with energy independence and a clean environment. JPL expected to achieve the impossible, and that suited me perfectly.