The Voyager Golden Record
Sounds and Images
30 years ago, taking advantage of the favorable alignment of the planets in the late 70s, NASA launched two probes, Voyager 1 and 2, with the goal of studying Jupiter and Saturn. (I'd take time to talk about how amazing the Pale Blue Dot is but I would go on forever.) Once they completed studying Jupiter and Saturn (of which little had previously been known) they continued in different directions and are now on the fringes of our solar system, where the Sun's influence gives way to other galactic bodies. To give you a sense of how far that is, Voyager 2 is now twice as far from the Sun as Pluto and its signals take 14 hours to reach Earth. As of last year, the two spacecraft became the third and fourth human artifacts to escape entirely from the solar system (preceded by Pioneers 10 and 11, which were launched in 1972 and 1973).
Mindful of this mind-boggling fact, the astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake somehow convinced NASA to bolt a gold-plated copper phonograph record to the outer hull of Voyager containing information chosen by a committee chaired by Sagan. This information was etched into gold and is expected to last a billion years, which, as the producer of the record points out in a very Sagan-ian way, is as far in the future as life on earth emerging from the seas was in the past.
If alien cultures or future human civilizations were to intercept the satellite (which is all but impossible, the symbolism of reaching out being the more important aspect here) and were able to figure out how to use the attached record player cartridge they would be greeted by an encoded analog signal that once calibrated would render a series of 115 images (think of a fax machine) followed by greetings in 55 languages, nature sounds, and 90 minutes of music from all over the world as well as printed messages from UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim and this one from President Carter:
"We cast this message into the cosmos ... Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some—perhaps many—may have inhabited planets and space faring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message: We are trying to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope some day, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of Galactic Civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe ... 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."(One of my favorite things about this record is that they mix in whale songs and bird calls as if they're just one more greeting in another language!)
Overlooking the burst of radio and television signals that are now forever radiating outwards from earth, the idea that these images and sounds may conceivably become the only surviving remnants of our existence makes me giddy with delight and a little choked up. Just listen to Blind Willie Johnson play Dark Was the Night and think of it hurtling through a cold empty darkness you can't even begin to imagine. If I ever cried, I would cry now.
Perhaps one of the most accurate things the project revealed about humanity (or at least Americans) was that when the public got wind that the illustration on the disc included drawings of a nude woman and man, newspapers began receiving angry letters accusing NASA of wasting taxpayer money to send "obscenities" into space. On a further bitter note (and to provide one more reason to get rid of record labels forever), Sagan and the Beatles both wanted to include the song Here Comes the Sun but the Beatles label EMI wouldn't allow it. Seriously, what the fuck? On a side note of a side note, in 2002 the British band Blur (also on EMI) composed a song to be beamed back from the surface of Mars by the Beagle 2 (a British landing spacecraft that was part of the European Space Agency's 2003 Mars Express mission) to signal its safe arrival. Sadly the craft was either lost in transit or malfunctioned on the surface and was never heard from.
So here's the game (more of the photos can be found here): As an alien (and assuming that you can process audio and visual signals in the same frequencies as humans-however unlikely), look at some of the images from the record and extrapolate the existence of the human species, and their location, ecosystem, biology, genetics, reproduction, cultures, societies, mathematics etc. from the following selection of images from those record contains. I can't stop laughing! And keep in mind, these will probably become the only surviving documents of the human race:
In case you didn't notice, one of the first photos of Earth are of Egypt, the Nile and the Red Sea, as if they'd possibly recognize it! (Or would they?)
The infection takes hold!
People become transparent as a parasite develops?
A doctor treating a sick human?
A small human riding an enslaved larger human? Answer: Obviously, since it clearly also has four appendages and a face, therefore human.
Humans first attempt at reaching space.
Humans ambulate by becoming transparent and then tumbling forward.
Earthings eventually grew to be larger than their planet and had to leave:
Fish float in the air or (and this is more likely) there is a separate underwater race of humans...
...that can't touch solid ground and try to catch land-based humans using nets...
...Which is why the land-based humans must erect watchtowers along the waterline:
I prefer to imagine that my tax dollars are only going towards the federal government hiring actors to demonstrate licking, eating and drinking:
This is my favorite picture of the group (it reminds me of my friend Jeremy in 2057) and if they can't understand why it's great than I didn't really want to meet them anyway: