The Voyager Golden Record: A Cosmic Message in a Bottle

Voyager Golden Record

This is the first of a three part series on the Voyager Golden Record, a cosmic message in a bottle to sentient life in the universe.
This post will be on the origins and nature of the record and spacecraft which carried it.

I – The Voyager Spacecrafts and the Origins of the Record
II – Greeting in 55 Languages
II – Sounds and Images of Earth
III – Music

This Voyager spacecraft was constructed by the United States of America. We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit the planet Earth. We human beings are still divided into nation states, but these states are rapidly becoming a single global civilization.
We cast this message into the cosmos. It is likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed. Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some–perhaps many–may have inhabited planets and spacefaring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message:
This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.
– President Jimmy Carter’s statement included on the record.
The record was constructed of gold-plated copper. Electroplated upon the cover is an ultra-pure sample of the isotope uranium-238. Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.468 billion years. It is possible that a civilization that encounters the record will be able to use the ratio of remaining uranium to daughter elements to determine the age of the record.


The Pioneer Plaque

The precursor to the Voyager Golden Record was the Pioneer spacecrafts 10 and 11, launched in 1972 & 1973. Included on the craft was the plaque below, showing a man and a woman with the man’s hand raised in a gesture of peace.

Sagan originally was going to have the man and woman holding hands but was worried that aliens would assume that they were looking at one single organism(Which in a way they are – man or woman by themselves is only half of the whole).

In the upper left hand corner is a diagram showing the hyperfine transition of neutral atomic hydrogen. The idea is that any alien species evolved enough to intercept the spacecraft would understand the nature of hydrogen enough to translate the message.  The drawing shows the hydrogen atom in its two lowest states, with a connecting line and digit 1 to indicate that the time interval associated with the transition from one state to the other is to be used as the fundamental time scale, both for the time given on the cover and in the decoded pictures

The drawing in the lower left-hand corner of the cover is the pulsar map. It shows the location of the solar system with respect to 14 pulsars, whose precise periods are given.

The inclusion of the nude drawings of Man and Woman led some very repressed individuals to criticize NASA for allowing images of naked human animals to leave the planet.  Because of this, the Voyager spacecrafts included only silhouette images of the human form.


Intended to show the diversity of life and culture on planet earth
Voyager 1 was launched in 1977.  The contents of the record were selected by a team headed by Carl Sagan. It contains greetings in 55 different languages either spoken in the past or currently on Planet Earth, a selection of 116 images depicting the variety of life on Earth and in the solar system as well as scientific diagrams, and a selection of music from all over the world.


The two spacecraft have now reached interstellar space.  In 1990 Voyager 1 passed the orbit of Pluto, and left the solar system in November 2004. It is now in the Kuiper Belt. Traveling at around 38,000 mph. Of the eleven instruments carried on Voyager 1, five of them are still operational and continue to send back data today. It is expected that there not be enough energy to power any of the instruments beyond 2025. When there is no more energy the spacecraft will become a tiny leaf pulled on by the stream, traveling in orbit around the Milky Way.

Besides question of if there is sentient life elsewhere in the universe, the chance of the spacecraft being found is very small.  Added to this is the fact that eventually the probes will stop emitting the electromagnetic radiation they need to communicate.

The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.
– Carl Sagan


Message in A Bottle

The Golden Record is a message in a bottle to anybody, to everybody, to no-one.
Like all messages, and all messages in bottles – the writing of it is more important than the reading of it.  The act of creation is all important, not whether it is ever received.

It shows a great act of self-reflection, the maturity that we as a species are contemplating our place in the Kosmos, in the whole.
The self-reflective movement that shows true intelligence and the dawning of self-consciousness. This ability to be self-conscious is an evolutionary leap in the evolution of life.

It is a great statement by humanity to itself.
It is life, consciousness, the universe awakening to its own mystery.  Marveling at its own diversity, its infinite capacity to play and appear in infinitely various forms.  And wondering what else is out there in the great ocean of the universe.

Where does my splendour end?


Not really done to communicate to aliens, and to show them who/what we are, but is meant as a statement to ourselves, to our children….: this is who/what we are. This is our experience and our world.  This is what Human Beings are, and have created and discovered.

This is an assembling of some of the things which make us human,
this is the human experience, as best could be conveyed in 1977 through sound and images

Truly the only aliens it will reach are those living on planet earth who felt that they were isolated and alone and separate from life.

Inscribed on the record is the message: “To the makers of music – all worlds, all times”

Looking to the Future

Of course was impossible in 1977 to put everything unique and wonderous on earth on the record.  There are however, some notable omissions.  There are no works of art like paintings, and sculptures.  No nudity, no picture of the human form uncovered.  No pictures of war and death(this is us as well, this is life, this is what can happen….)

With modern technology it may be possible to put everything imaginable that makes up our lives and our heritage as human beings.

But can the soul of man be contained in sounds, images; in data?

What would you put on a time capsule to aliens?
In a message in a bottle to yourself, to your children’s children, to future humans?
What songs, images, sounds, formulae, words?

A Few Good Links

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