The Golden Record

Launched in 1977, both Voyager spacecraft carry a unique 'time capsule' along with them into interstellar space.

A golden record says The Sounds of Earth on the label and to the makers of music - all worlds, all time hand etched into the margin at the center.

A Kind of Time Capsule

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 Golden Record Cover

The record's protective cover includes with instructions for playing its contents, finding Earth in the cosmos, and dating how long it has been in space.

What's on the Record?

The record features images and a variety of natural sounds, such thunder, birds, musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings in 55 languages.

History and Manufacturing

Many people were instrumental in the design, development and manufacturing of the golden record.

A round golden cover features illustrations intended to educate potential extra terrestrial about Earth and its people.

Discover More Topics From NASA

Splotches of bright-pink and blue-white fill the lower half of the image. A bright bar of white stars extends downward from top-center toward the left. Random areas of dusty clouds form dark streams against the bright backdrop.

Our Solar System

An illustration of a slice of a bright orange sun, with planets, a comet and asteroids against a blue-black backround.

Link to Smithsonian homepage

Voyager Golden Record: Through Struggle to the Stars

Voyager Record Cover

Voyager "Sounds Of Earth" Record Cover, 1977, National Air and Space Museum, Transferred from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

An intergalactic message in a bottle, the Voyager Golden Record was launched into space late in the summer of 1977. Conceived as a sort of advance promo disc advertising planet Earth and its inhabitants, it was affixed to Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, spacecraft designed to fly to the outer reaches of the solar system and beyond, providing data and documentation of Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. And just in case an alien lifeform stumbled upon either of the spacecraft, the Golden Record would provide them with information about Earth and its inhabitants, alongside media meant to encourage curiosity and contact.

Listen to the music recorded on the Voyager album with this Spotify playlist from user Ulysses' Classical.

Recorded at 16 ⅔ RPM to maximize play time, each gold-plaited, copper disc was engraved with the same program of 31 musical tracks—ranging from an excerpt of Mozart’s Magic Flute to a field recording made by Alan Lomax of Solomon Island panpipe players—spoken greetings in 55 languages, a sonic collage of recorded natural sounds and human-made sounds (“The Sounds of Earth”), 115 analogue-encoded images including a pulsar map to help in finding one’s way to Earth, a recording of the creative director’s brainwaves, and a Morse-code rendering of the Latin phrase per aspera ad astra (“through struggle to the stars”). In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first Earth craft to burst the heliospheric bubble and cross over into interstellar space. And in 2018, Voyager 2 crossed the same threshold.

A tiny speck of a spacecraft cast into the endless sea of outer space, each Voyager craft was designed to drift forever with no set point of arrival. Likewise, the Golden Record was designed to be playable for up to a billion years, despite the long odds that anyone or anything would ever discover and “listen” to it. Much like the Voyager spacecraft themselves, the journey itself was in large part the point—except that instead of capturing scientific data along the way, the Golden Record instead revealed a great deal about its makers and their historico-cultural context.

In The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record (2019), a book published by Bloomsbury’s Sigma science imprint, author Jonathan Scott captures both the monumental scope of the Voyager mission, relentless as space itself, and the very human dimensions of the Gold Record discs: “When we are all dust, when the Sun dies, these two golden analogue discs, with their handy accompanying stylus and instructions, will still be speeding off further into the cosmos. And alongside their music, photographs and data, the discs will still have etched into their fabric the sound of one woman’s brainwaves—a recording made on 3 June 1977, just weeks before launch. The sound of a human being in love with another human being.”

From sci-fi literature to outer-space superhero fantasies, from Afrofuturism to cosmic jazz to space rock, space-themed artistic expressions often focus on deeply human narratives such as love stories or stories of war. There seems to be something about traveling into outer space, or merely imagining doing so, that bring out many people’s otherwise-obscured humanity—which may help explain all the deadly serious discussions over the most fantastical elements of Star Trek and Star Wars , or Sun Ra and Lady Gaga. In the musical realm, space-based music frequently aims for the most extreme states of human emotion whether body-based or mind-expanding, euphoric or despairing. In other words, these cosmic art forms are pretty much expected to test boundaries and cross thresholds, or at least to make the attempt. The Voyager Golden Record was no exception.

The “executive producer” behind the Golden Record was the world-famous astrophysicist, humanist, and champion of science for the everyman, Carl Sagan (1934–1996). Equally a pragmatist and a populist, he was the perfect individual to oversee the Golden Record with its dual utilitarian and utopian aims. In his 1973 book The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective , Sagan writes that humans have long “wondered whether they are in some sense connected with the awesome and immense cosmos in which the Earth is imbedded,” touching again on the meeting point between everyday mundane realities and “escapist” fantasies, a collision that animates a great deal of science fiction and cosmic-based music. In his personal notes from the time of The Cosmic Connection , Sagan makes reference to music as “a means of interstellar communication.” So how would he utilize music to create these moments of connection and convergence?

It’s little wonder that Sagan endorsed the inclusion of a record on spaceships, with music specially selected to call out to the outer reaches of space. Music was a “universal language” in his telling due to its “mathematical” form, decipherable to any species with a capacity for advanced memory retention and pattern recognition. But this universal quality didn’t stop it from expressing crucial aspects of what earthlings were and what makes us tick, or the many different types of individuals and cultures at work on the planet Earth. Moving beyond the strict utility of mathematics, he also believed that music could communicate the uniquely emotional dimensions of human existence. Whereas previous visual-based messages shot into space “might have encapsulated how we think, this would be the first to communicate something of how we feel” (Scott 2019).

Further refining this idea, Jon Lomberg, a Golden Record team member who illustrated a number of Carl Sagan’s books, argued for an emphasis on “ideal” types of music for the interstellar disc: “The [Golden] Record should be more than a random sampling of Earth’s Greatest Hits...We should choose those forms which are to some degree self-explanatory forms whose rules of structure are evident from even a single example of the form (like fugues and canons, rondos and rounds).”

Ethnomusicologists Alan Lomax and Robert E. Brown were brought in as collaborators, offering their expertise in the world’s music and knowledge of potential recordings to be used. The latter’s first musical recommendation to Sagan hewed to the stated ideal of music which establishes its own structural rules from the get-go—and by association, how these rules may be broken—all overlaid by the yearning of the singer’s voice and the longing expressed in the lyrics. As he described it in his program notes written for Sagan: ‘“Indian vocal music’ by Kesarbai Kerkar…three minutes and 25 seconds long…a solo voice with a seven-tone modal melody with auxiliary pitches [and] a cyclic meter of 14 beats, alongside drone, ‘ornamentation’ and drum accompaniment and some improvisation.” He also gives a partial translation to the words of the music: “Where are you going? Don’t go alone…”

Taken as a whole, the Voyager Golden Record is reminiscent of a mixtape made by an eccentric friend with an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s music—leaping from track-to-track, across continents and historical periods, crossing heedlessly over the dividing lines drawn between art, folk, and popular musics, but with each track a work of self-contained precision and concision. The disc plays out as a precariously balanced suite of global musical miniatures, a mix where it’s perfectly plausible for Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” to end up sandwiched between a mariachi band and a field recording of Papua New Guinean music recorded by a medical doctor from Australia. Human diversity is the byword, diversity as a trait of humanity itself. The more the individual tracks stand in relief to one another the better.

Given all of this, one could make a plausible case that the Voyager Golden Record helped “invent” a new approach of world music, one where musical crosstalk isn’t subtle or peripheral, but where it’s more like the center pole of musical creation itself. While it’s hardly clear if Sagan or most of his other collaborators had this goal in mind, creative director Ann Druyan certainly did. Or at least she did when it came to her insistence on including Chuck Berry on the Golden Record. As she puts it in a 60 Minutes interview from 2018, “ Johnny B. Goode , rock and roll, was the music of motion, of moving, getting to someplace you've never been before, and the odds are against you, but you want to go. That was Voyager." And so rock ‘n’ roll is turned into true “world music.”

Whether by chance or by design, the Voyager Golden Record anticipated the shifting cultural and aesthetic contexts through which many listeners heard and understood “world music,” a shift that would become blatantly obvious in the decades to come. More than a culturally-sensitive replacement for labels like “exotic music” and “primitive music,” more than a grab bag of unclaimed non-Western musics and vernacular musics, the Golden Record anticipated a sensibility in which the “world” in world music was made more literal—both by fusion-minded musicians, and by music retailers who placed these fusions in newly-designated “world music” sections. (but one must acknowledge that these musical fusions were sometimes problematic in their own right, too often relying on power differentials between borrower and borrowed-from music and musicians)

In this respect, and in other respects beyond our scope here, "world music" embodied many of the contradictions inherent to the rise of globalization, postmodernism, hyperreality, neoliberalism, etc.—coinciding with the crossing of a threshold sometime in the 1970s or ‘80s according to most accounts—with the outcome being a world that’s ever more integrated (the global economy, the global media, global climate change) but also ever more polarized, each dynamic inextricably linked to its polar opposite—a sort of interstellar zone where the normal laws of physics no longer seem to apply.

By taking diversity and juxtaposition as aesthetic ideals rather than drawbacks, the creators of the Voyager Golden Record sketched a sonic portrait of the planet Earth and, at the same time, anticipating the art of the mixtape, yet another trend that would come to fruition in the 1980s. Not unlike a mixtape made for a new friend or a prospective love interest, the Golden Record was designed both to impress —an invitation for aliens to travel across the universe just to meet us—and to express who we are as a people and as a planet.

With the Golden Record as a mixtape-anticipating bid for cosmic connection, it’s fitting that its creative spark was lit in large part by the love affair that developed between Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan in the summer of 1977. To the self-professed surprise of both, they became engaged in the middle of an impulsive phone call and conversation, before they had even officially moved beyond friendship. They remained happily married until Carl Sagan passed away in 1996. On a National Public Radio segment broadcast in 2010, Ann Druyan described the moments leading up to that pivotal phone call and its lifelong aftermath—a relationship made official across space and over a wire—“It was this great eureka moment. It was like scientific discovery.” Several days later, Druyan’s brainwaves were recorded to be included on the Golden Record —her own idea—while she thought about their eternal love.

Given the sudden and unexpected manner in which they fell in love and into sync, it maybe didn’t seem too crazy to believe that infatuation could beset some lonely extraterrestrial who discovered their Golden Record too, especially if this unknown entity plugged into Druyan’s love waves. After all, the Voyager mission itself was planned around a cosmic convergence that only takes place once in the span of several lifetimes. Much like the star-crossed lovers, the stars had to literally align for the mission to be possible at all. The Voyager mission took advantage of a rare formation of the solar system’s most distant four planets that made the trip vastly faster and more feasible, using the gravitational pull of one planet as an “onboard propulsion system” to hurl itself toward the nest destination. With all the jigsaw puzzle pieces so perfectly aligned for the first part of the mission, it would be a shame if some mixtape-loving alien never came for a visit. The main question being if anyone will be here to meet them by the time they get here. As Jimmy Carter put it in his written message attached to the Golden Record:

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.

Dallas Taylor, host of independent podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, explores the Voyager album track-by-track in episode 65: "Voyager Golden Record." Visit the podcast website to listen.

Written and compiled by Jason Lee Oakes, Editor, Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM)

This post was produced through a partnership between Smithsonian Year of Music and RILM .

golden disc voyager music


DiGenti, Brian. “Voyager Interstellar Record: 60 Trillion Feet High and Rising.” Wax Poetics 55 (Summer 2013): 96.   In the summer of 1977, just after Kraftwerk dropped Trans-Europe Express , Giorgio Moroder offered the world the perfect marriage of German techno with American disco in Donna Summer's "I feel love," the first dance hit produced wholly by synthesizer and the precursor to the underground dance movement. Meanwhile, there was another gold record in the works. The Voyager Interstellar Message Project, a NASA initiative led by astronomer Carl Sagan and creative director Ann Druyan, was a chance at communicating with any intelligent life in outer space. In an unintended centennial celebration of the phonograph, the team created a gold-plated record that would be attached to the Voyager 1 and 2 probes—the Voyager Golden Record—a time capsule to express the wonders of planet Earth in sound and vision. As they were tasked with choosing images and music for this 16-2/3 RPM "cultural Noah's Ark"—a little Mozart, some Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, and Blind Willie Johnson—the pair of geniuses fell madly for each other, vowing to marry within their first moments together. Their final touch was to embed Ann's EEG patterns into the record as an example of human brain waves on this thing called love. (author)  

Meredith, William. “The Cavatina in Space.” The Beethoven Newsletter 1, no. 2 (Summer 1986): 29–30.   When the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched its spacecraft Voyager I and II in 1977, each carried a gold-plated copper record intended to serve as a communication to "possible extraterrestrial civilizations.” Each record contains photographs of earth, "the world's greatest music," an introductory audio essay, and greetings to extraterrestrials in 60 languages. Two of the record's eight examples of art music are by Beethoven (the first movement of the symphony no. 5 and the cavatina of the string quartet in B-flat major, op. 130). The symphony no. 5 was selected because of its "compelling" and passionate nature, new physiognomy, innovations, symmetry, and brevity. The cavatina was chosen because of its ambiguous nature, mixing sadness, hope, and serenity. (author)  

Sagan, Carl. Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record . New York: Random House, 1978.   On 20 August and 5 September 1977, two extraordinary spacecraft called Voyager were launched to the stars (Voyager 1 and Voyager 2). After what promises to be a detailed and thoroughly dramatic exploration of the outer solar system from Jupiter to Uranus between 1979 and 1986, these space vehicles will slowly leave the solar systems—emissaries of the Earth to the realm of the stars. Affixed to each Voyager craft is a gold-coated copper phonograph record as a message to possible extra-terrestrial civilizations that might encounter the spacecraft in some distant space and time. Each record contains 118 photographs of our planet, ourselves, and our civilization; almost 90 minutes of the world's greatest music; an evolutionary audio essay on "The Sounds of Earth"; and greetings in almost 60 human languages (and one whale language), including salutations from the President Jimmy Carter and the Secretary General of the United Nations. This book is an account, written by those chiefly responsible for the contents of the Voyager Record, of why we did it, how we selected the repertoire, and precisely what the record contains.  

Scott, Jonathan. The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record . London: Bloomsbury Sigma, 2019.   In 1977, a team led by the great Carl Sagan was put together to create a record that would travel to the stars on the back of NASA's Voyager probe. They were responsible for creating a playlist of music, sounds and pictures that would represent not just humanity, but would also paint a picture of Earth for any future alien races that may come into contact with the probe. The Vinyl Frontier tells the whole story of how the record was created, from when NASA first proposed the idea to Carl to when they were finally able watch the Golden Record rocket off into space on Voyager. The final playlist contains music written and performed by well-known names such as Bach, Beethoven, Glenn Gould, Chuck Berry and Blind Willie Johnson, as well as music from China, India and more remote cultures such as a community in Small Malaita in the Solomon Islands. It also contained a message of peace from US president Jimmy Carter, a variety of scientific figures and dimensions, and instructions on how to use it for a variety of alien lifeforms. Each song, sound and picture that made the final cut onto the record has a story to tell. Through interviews with all of the key players involved with the record, this book pieces together the whole story of the Golden Record. It addresses the myth that the Beatles were left off of the record because of copyright reasons and will include new information about US president Jimmy Carter's role in the record, as well as many other fascinating insights that have never been reported before. It also tells the love story between Carl Sagan and the project's creative director Ann Druyan that flourishes as the record is being created. The Golden Record is more than just a time capsule. It is a unique combination of science and art, and a testament to the genius of its driving force, the great polymath Carl Sagan. (publisher)  

Smith, Brad. “Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground’.” The Bulletin of the Society for American Music 41, no. 2 (Spring 2015): [9].   Blind Willie Johnson's 1927 recording of “ Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground ” was included on the copper record that accompanied Voyager I and II into space, placed just before the cavatina of Beethoven's string quartet op. 130. The author searches for the reasons the NASA team considered it among the world's greatest music, relating Johnson's interpretation to the hymn text of the same title written by Thomas Haweis and published in 1792, and analyzing Johnson's slide guitar technique and vocal melismas. Johnson's rhythmic style, with its irregularities, is discussed with reference to Primitive Baptist singing style. (journal)

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How the Voyager Golden Record Was Made

By Timothy Ferris

Image may contain Disk and Dvd

We inhabit a small planet orbiting a medium-sized star about two-thirds of the way out from the center of the Milky Way galaxy—around where Track 2 on an LP record might begin. In cosmic terms, we are tiny: were the galaxy the size of a typical LP, the sun and all its planets would fit inside an atom’s width. Yet there is something in us so expansive that, four decades ago, we made a time capsule full of music and photographs from Earth and flung it out into the universe. Indeed, we made two of them.

The time capsules, really a pair of phonograph records, were launched aboard the twin Voyager space probes in August and September of 1977. The craft spent thirteen years reconnoitering the sun’s outer planets, beaming back valuable data and images of incomparable beauty . In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first human-made object to leave the solar system, sailing through the doldrums where the stream of charged particles from our sun stalls against those of interstellar space. Today, the probes are so distant that their radio signals, travelling at the speed of light, take more than fifteen hours to reach Earth. They arrive with a strength of under a millionth of a billionth of a watt, so weak that the three dish antennas of the Deep Space Network’s interplanetary tracking system (in California, Spain, and Australia) had to be enlarged to stay in touch with them.

If you perched on Voyager 1 now—which would be possible, if uncomfortable; the spidery craft is about the size and mass of a subcompact car—you’d have no sense of motion. The brightest star in sight would be our sun, a glowing point of light below Orion’s foot, with Earth a dim blue dot lost in its glare. Remain patiently onboard for millions of years, and you’d notice that the positions of a few relatively nearby stars were slowly changing, but that would be about it. You’d find, in short, that you were not so much flying to the stars as swimming among them.

The Voyagers’ scientific mission will end when their plutonium-238 thermoelectric power generators fail, around the year 2030. After that, the two craft will drift endlessly among the stars of our galaxy—unless someone or something encounters them someday. With this prospect in mind, each was fitted with a copy of what has come to be called the Golden Record. Etched in copper, plated with gold, and sealed in aluminum cases, the records are expected to remain intelligible for more than a billion years, making them the longest-lasting objects ever crafted by human hands. We don’t know enough about extraterrestrial life, if it even exists, to state with any confidence whether the records will ever be found. They were a gift, proffered without hope of return.

I became friends with Carl Sagan, the astronomer who oversaw the creation of the Golden Record, in 1972. He’d sometimes stop by my place in New York, a high-ceilinged West Side apartment perched up amid Norway maples like a tree house, and we’d listen to records. Lots of great music was being released in those days, and there was something fascinating about LP technology itself. A diamond danced along the undulations of a groove, vibrating an attached crystal, which generated a flow of electricity that was amplified and sent to the speakers. At no point in this process was it possible to say with assurance just how much information the record contained or how accurately a given stereo had translated it. The open-endedness of the medium seemed akin to the process of scientific exploration: there was always more to learn.

In the winter of 1976, Carl was visiting with me and my fiancée at the time, Ann Druyan, and asked whether we’d help him create a plaque or something of the sort for Voyager. We immediately agreed. Soon, he and one of his colleagues at Cornell, Frank Drake, had decided on a record. By the time NASA approved the idea, we had less than six months to put it together, so we had to move fast. Ann began gathering material for a sonic description of Earth’s history. Linda Salzman Sagan, Carl’s wife at the time, went to work recording samples of human voices speaking in many different languages. The space artist Jon Lomberg rounded up photographs, a method having been found to encode them into the record’s grooves. I produced the record, which meant overseeing the technical side of things. We all worked on selecting the music.

I sought to recruit John Lennon, of the Beatles, for the project, but tax considerations obliged him to leave the country. Lennon did help us, though, in two ways. First, he recommended that we use his engineer, Jimmy Iovine, who brought energy and expertise to the studio. (Jimmy later became famous as a rock and hip-hop producer and record-company executive.) Second, Lennon’s trick of etching little messages into the blank spaces between the takeout grooves at the ends of his records inspired me to do the same on Voyager. I wrote a dedication: “To the makers of music—all worlds, all times.”

To our surprise, those nine words created a problem at NASA . An agency compliance officer, charged with making sure each of the probes’ sixty-five thousand parts were up to spec, reported that while everything else checked out—the records’ size, weight, composition, and magnetic properties—there was nothing in the blueprints about an inscription. The records were rejected, and NASA prepared to substitute blank discs in their place. Only after Carl appealed to the NASA administrator, arguing that the inscription would be the sole example of human handwriting aboard, did we get a waiver permitting the records to fly.

In those days, we had to obtain physical copies of every recording we hoped to listen to or include. This wasn’t such a challenge for, say, mainstream American music, but we aimed to cast a wide net, incorporating selections from places as disparate as Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, China, Congo, Japan, the Navajo Nation, Peru, and the Solomon Islands. Ann found an LP containing the Indian raga “Jaat Kahan Ho” in a carton under a card table in the back of an appliance store. At one point, the folklorist Alan Lomax pulled a Russian recording, said to be the sole copy of “Chakrulo” in North America, from a stack of lacquer demos and sailed it across the room to me like a Frisbee. We’d comb through all this music individually, then meet and go over our nominees in long discussions stretching into the night. It was exhausting, involving, utterly delightful work.

“Bhairavi: Jaat Kahan Ho,” by Kesarbai Kerkar

In selecting Western classical music, we sacrificed a measure of diversity to include three compositions by J. S. Bach and two by Ludwig van Beethoven. To understand why we did this, imagine that the record were being studied by extraterrestrials who lacked what we would call hearing, or whose hearing operated in a different frequency range than ours, or who hadn’t any musical tradition at all. Even they could learn from the music by applying mathematics, which really does seem to be the universal language that music is sometimes said to be. They’d look for symmetries—repetitions, inversions, mirror images, and other self-similarities—within or between compositions. We sought to facilitate the process by proffering Bach, whose works are full of symmetry, and Beethoven, who championed Bach’s music and borrowed from it.

I’m often asked whether we quarrelled over the selections. We didn’t, really; it was all quite civil. With a world full of music to choose from, there was little reason to protest if one wonderful track was replaced by another wonderful track. I recall championing Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night,” which, if memory serves, everyone liked from the outset. Ann stumped for Chuck Berry’s “ Johnny B. Goode ,” a somewhat harder sell, in that Carl, at first listening, called it “awful.” But Carl soon came around on that one, going so far as to politely remind Lomax, who derided Berry’s music as “adolescent,” that Earth is home to many adolescents. Rumors to the contrary, we did not strive to include the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” only to be disappointed when we couldn’t clear the rights. It’s not the Beatles’ strongest work, and the witticism of the title, if charming in the short run, seemed unlikely to remain funny for a billion years.

“Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” by Blind Willie Johnson

Ann’s sequence of natural sounds was organized chronologically, as an audio history of our planet, and compressed logarithmically so that the human story wouldn’t be limited to a little beep at the end. We mixed it on a thirty-two-track analog tape recorder the size of a steamer trunk, a process so involved that Jimmy jokingly accused me of being “one of those guys who has to use every piece of equipment in the studio.” With computerized boards still in the offing, the sequence’s dozens of tracks had to be mixed manually. Four of us huddled over the board like battlefield surgeons, struggling to keep our arms from getting tangled as we rode the faders by hand and got it done on the fly.

The sequence begins with an audio realization of the “music of the spheres,” in which the constantly changing orbital velocities of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter are translated into sound, using equations derived by the astronomer Johannes Kepler in the sixteenth century. We then hear the volcanoes, earthquakes, thunderstorms, and bubbling mud of the early Earth. Wind, rain, and surf announce the advent of oceans, followed by living creatures—crickets, frogs, birds, chimpanzees, wolves—and the footsteps, heartbeats, and laughter of early humans. Sounds of fire, speech, tools, and the calls of wild dogs mark important steps in our species’ advancement, and Morse code announces the dawn of modern communications. (The message being transmitted is Ad astra per aspera , “To the stars through hard work.”) A brief sequence on modes of transportation runs from ships to jet airplanes to the launch of a Saturn V rocket. The final sounds begin with a kiss, then a mother and child, then an EEG recording of (Ann’s) brainwaves, and, finally, a pulsar—a rapidly spinning neutron star giving off radio noise—in a tip of the hat to the pulsar map etched into the records’ protective cases.

“The Sounds of Earth”

Ann had obtained beautiful recordings of whale songs, made with trailing hydrophones by the biologist Roger Payne, which didn’t fit into our rather anthropocentric sounds sequence. We also had a collection of loquacious greetings from United Nations representatives, edited down and cross-faded to make them more listenable. Rather than pass up the whales, I mixed them in with the diplomats. I’ll leave it to the extraterrestrials to decide which species they prefer.

“United Nations Greetings/Whale Songs”

Those of us who were involved in making the Golden Record assumed that it would soon be commercially released, but that didn’t happen. Carl repeatedly tried to get labels interested in the project, only to run afoul of what he termed, in a letter to me dated September 6, 1990, “internecine warfare in the record industry.” As a result, nobody heard the thing properly for nearly four decades. (Much of what was heard, on Internet snippets and in a short-lived commercial CD release made in 1992 without my participation, came from a set of analog tape dubs that I’d distributed to our team as keepsakes.) Then, in 2016, a former student of mine, David Pescovitz, and one of his colleagues, Tim Daly, approached me about putting together a reissue. They secured funding on Kickstarter , raising more than a million dollars in less than a month, and by that December we were back in the studio, ready to press play on the master tape for the first time since 1977.

Pescovitz and Daly took the trouble to contact artists who were represented on the record and send them what amounted to letters of authenticity—something we never had time to accomplish with the original project. (We disbanded soon after I delivered the metal master to Los Angeles, making ours a proud example of a federal project that evaporated once its mission was accomplished.) They also identified and corrected errors and omissions in the information that was provided to us by recordists and record companies. Track 3, for instance, which was listed by Lomax as “Senegal Percussion,” turns out instead to have been recorded in Benin and titled “Cengunmé”; and Track 24, the Navajo night chant, now carries the performers’ names. Forty years after launch, the Golden Record is finally being made available here on Earth. Were Carl alive today—he died in 1996 at the age of sixty-two—I think he’d be delighted.

This essay was adapted from the liner notes for the new edition of the Voyager Golden Record, recently released as a vinyl boxed set by Ozma Records .

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The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition

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2017 rerelease of Voyager's Golden Record by Ozma Records. Both CDs have been losslessly ripped, with a bit of extra metadata added. While the audio encodes of images on the record are not present on either CD, the master tape has been separately uploaded at . The book also contains all 100+ original quality images.

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You Can Finally Buy a Copy of the Voyager Golden Record, Gold Plating Not Included

The Voyager 1 spacecraft might be the most famous time capsule in history, soaring through space as a testament to humanity’s achievements. We don’t know if intelligent life will ever find the craft or its contents, launched in 1977 to explore the planets before sailing indefinitely beyond our solar system. But at least humans here on Earth can finally own a piece of its history.

The Voyager spacecraft includes the so-called Golden Record that is now available for purchase on both LP and CD. The album has 90 minutes of music from around the world, though the only contemporary American song is a lone track from Chuck Berry, “Johnny B. Goode.” Carl Sagan reportedly wanted to go with the song “Roll Over Beethoven” but was persuaded by his university students that “Johnny B. Goode” was a better choice.

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A Kickstarter campaign to release the record raised over $1.3 million , but you don’t have to be a contributor to get your hands on one. The album is available to order on both CD and LP, though the 3-vinyl LP version isn’t a copper disc wrapped in gold, like the version that’s now hurtling through space. That version was sealed in real gold to protect it from the elements (both meteoroids and radiation) as it searches for intelligent life that may be able to listen to the record. The spacecraft record has a needle and primitive instructions for how to play it, should ET ever discover the thing.

Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 contain the Golden Record, but Voyager 1 is on a faster course (despite being launched after Voyager 2) and is the farthest human-made object from Earth. The new LP version is a costly $98, but it does include perks like a 96-page softcover book with plenty of information about the Voyager missions. The CD version is a more affordable $50 .

It’s a rare treat to be able to buy the record today. Even Carl Sagan didn’t get a copy of the record, which is being released by Ozma Records. You can order a copy of the LP or the CD over at the Ozma Records website, though the LP version has proved so popular that you probably won’t get it until January. So don’t get your hopes up if you were planning to give it as a Christmas present.

And, yes, the vinyl version includes a digital download card that allows you to grab MP3 or FLAC versions of the music. This is the future, after all.

[ Ozma Records and Pitchfork ]

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Chuck Berry Immortalized On Voyager Space Mission

In 1977, a recording of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" was included on a golden disc sent to space with the Voyager mission. The mission continues today.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You, Too, Could Own a Copy of the Voyager Golden Record

Ozma records is producing a box set of the album sent into the cosmos to reach out to potential extraterrestrial life

Jason Daley


Golden Record

Record collectors shell out tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for rare discs by the Beatles or early blues artists. However, there’s one disc many collectors (and every space nerds) covets but will never get their hands on: the Golden Record. Now, a group of science enthusiasts and vinyl aficionados have teamed up to make a version of the disc available to the masses.

In 1977, 12-inch gold-plated copper discs were placed aboard the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes. The records were housed in an aluminum sleeve bearing instructions on how to play them and included a needle and a cartridge. The contents, curated by a committee headed by astronomer Carl Sagan, include 115 encoded analog images from Earth, natural sounds like birds, whales, and a baby’s cry, music by Bach, Beethoven, and Chuck Berry, greetings in 55 languages and written messages from then-President Jimmy Carter and U.N. General Secretary Kurt Waldheim.

“The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space,” Sagan noted . “But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet."

According to Megan Molteni at Wired , NASA pressed a dozen of the records, ten of which were distributed to NASA facilities. The other two are 13 billion miles from Earth on Voyager 1 and 2. Despite his requests, even Carl Sagan never received a copy. Just getting a glimpse of a Golden Record is difficult, reports Kenneth Chang for  The New York Times . A copy of the record's aluminum cover is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The record itself is can be viewed in an auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, which is open during public lectures.

That’s why the group calling itself Ozma Records decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches by reissuing the Golden Record as a box set. Last week, they listed their project on Kickstarter with a goal of raising $198,000 to produce the facsimile. The project blasted past that goal in just two days and at last count received pledges worth $658,000 from almost 5,300 backers.

The $98 reissue isn’t exactly the same as the Voyager disks. For one thing, it’s pressed from yellow vinyl, not actual copper and gold, Chang reports. It will come on 3 LPs, which are designed to be played at 33 rpm, versus the original which plays at 16.5 rpm to accommodate all the photos, messages and 90 minutes of music on a single disc. The box set will also include a hardbound book about the history and production of the record along with printed photos of the images included on the disk. An MP3 version of the audio will also be available for $15.

“When you’re seven years old, and you hear about a group of people creating messages for possible extraterrestrial intelligence,” Ozma Records' David Pescovitz, managing partner at Boing Boing and research director at Institute for the Future, tells Chang, “that sparks the imagination. The idea always stuck with me.”

In 1978, Sagan and his colleagues published Murmurs of the Earth, the story of the Golden Record’s creation, which included a track list from the record. A 1992 CD-ROM of the book was reissued including a digital re-creation of the Golden Record. But this is the first time the public has had access to the recording in the format that an alien civilization may encounter it. The production team is trying to keep the disks as close to the original as possible, and are working with science writer Timothy Ferris, who produced the original, to remaster the recordings.

“The thinking on the original was so genius that who am I to change anything about it, you know?” experienced album designer Lawrence Azerrad, who is curating the album packaging tells Molteni. “It’d be like listening to Mozart and saying, ‘Oh I think that bridge was a little fast.’ This is an awesome snapshot of who we are as the human race, and we want all of that to just sing and be as pure as possible.”

The recently acquired permissions to publish the music on the collection and expects to ship the box sets sometime during 2017, Voyager’s anniversary year.

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Jason Daley | | READ MORE

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover , Popular Science , Outside , Men’s Journal , and other magazines.

Written by Mark Smotroff • January 17, 2018 • 4:13 am • Audiophile Music

The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition

Mark Smotroff sets the controls for interstellar overdrive…

golden disc voyager music

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One of the most fascinating collections to be released at the end of 2017 is a three disc — and digital download (and eventually CD) — commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Voyager space mission. In case you didn’t know about this, in 1977 NASA sent out two robotic space probes to study the far reaches of the solar system. Included on these probes — called Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 — are a pair of golden discs (one each) containing audio representations of life on earth. 


From the Kickstarter page, we learn “ A year in the making (and many more years on our minds), the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition is the first vinyl release of the stunning golden phonograph record launched by NASA in 1977 aboard the Voyager spacecraft, one of which is now traveling through interstellar space. The deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition box set will only be available through October 20 on Kickstarter.”

I got my order in and it arrived just in time for the Winter holiday season. And generally I am super pleased with it.  Falling only one step short of having a physical reproduction of the exact Voyager disc, this three LP set pressed on thick, quiet and well centered vinyl is the next best thing. And its something we can enjoy here and now today. You see, the original Voyager disc was not created in a form adhering to our current audio standards; according to the Wiki,  the audio on the original Voyager Golden Record was d esigned to be played at 16⅔ revolutions per minute.


I still have yet to really explore the included 96-page full-color soft-bound book which contains all images included on the original Voyager Interstellar Record, gallery of images transmitted back from the Voyager probes, and a new essay by original disc producer Timothy Ferris , producer of the original golden record. But it is interesting to consider some details from the Wiki about how this collection came together: “The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. The selection of content for the record took almost a year. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind, thunder and animals (including the songs of birds and whales). To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, spoken greetings in 55 ancient and modern languages, other human sounds, like footsteps and laughter (Sagan’s), and printed messages from U.S. president Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. The record also includes the inspirational message Per aspera ad astra in Morse code.”

Musically, the three LP set does not disappoint for the most part, presenting a fairly breathtaking array of music and sound ( Click here for a full run down of everything that is on the disc).

Some of my favorites from the set include: “ Alima Song” by Mbuti of the Ituri Rainforest, a haunting tribal chant type piece.  “Chakrulo” by Georgian State Merited Ensemble of Folk Song and Dance/Anzor Kavsadze sounds sort of like a male backing track to a Kate Bush song. 


“Melancholy Blues” performed by legendary Jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven is wonderful as is “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” by blues great Blind Willie Johnson, both from 1927.  It is wonderful that they included a section from Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring respectfully using a version conducted by the composer himself (although I wish they had used a performance by Pierre Monteux , who conducted the world premiere of the piece back in 1914). 

Perhaps the only sonic let down for this writer is, oddly enough, due to an audiophile-ish issue: the version of Chuck Berry’s rock ‘n roll classic “Johnny B.Goode” sounds a little wonky and is likely a reprocessed version, not a tight crisp original Mono version. This one is drenched in additional reverb and some sort of processing, so much so I can’t really tell if it is fake Stereo… but it does sound odd. I have to guess that the original Voyager Record producers weren’t quite obsessing about audiophile issues just went with whatever version they were given permission to use for the set. If that is the case, then Ozma Records is to be applauded for giving us that same version and not some 21st Century digitally remastered update. This is one of the rare instances where having an inferior version might perhaps be desirable in so far as maintaining the authenticity of the collection. 

]]> Perhaps my favorite — and admittedly record collector geekiest — part of the set is the brilliantly designed felt DJ tie table mat which depicts the Voyager mission trajectory through space. My inner 16-year old science geek let out a big  “squeeeee”  upon opening the package for the first time.


So while there is potential audiophile joy on this set, the real reason you want to listen to this collection is simply for the glorious snapshot it presents of mankind to the rest of the universe.  Taken as a whole — from Kesarbai Kerkar’s haunting “Jaat Kahan Ho” to Glenn Gould’s interpretation of  Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C Major” (The Well-Tempered Clavier) to the 12-minute sound collage titled “The Sounds of Earth” — you realize what a powerful and creative creatures we are here on this planet we call Earth.

Hopefully by the time other civilizations find this music out in the cosmos and contact us to hear more, we’ll still be here to play them more of these amazing sounds. 

I’ll close here with another quote  from the album’s website  because it really sums up this importance of the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition  neatly:  “As an exquisitely curated music compilation, the Voyager record is an inviting port of entry to unfamiliar yet entrancing sounds from other cultures and other times. As an objet d’art and design, it represents deep insights about communication, context, and the power of media. In the realm of science, it raises fundamental questions about who we are and our place in the universe. At the intersection of those three perspectives, the Voyager record is a testament to the potential of science and art to ignite humanity’s sense of curiosity and wonder.”

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Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine,, Sound+Vision Magazine, and many others. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written:

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golden disc voyager music

NASA, California Institute of Technology, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory Page Header Title

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golden record

Where are they now.

  • frequently asked questions
  • Q&A with Ed Stone

golden record  /  whats on the record

Greetings to the universe in 55 different languages.

A golden phonograph record was attached to each of the Voyager spacecraft that were launched almost 25 years ago. One of the purposes was to send a message to extraterrestrials who might find the spacecraft as the spacecraft journeyed through interstellar space. In addition to pictures and music and sounds from earth, greetings in 55 languages were included.

NASA asked Dr Carl Sagan of Cornell University to assemble a greeting and gave him the freedom to choose the format and what would be included. Because of the launch schedule, Sagan (and those he got to help him) was not given a lot of time. Linda Salzman Sagan was given the task of assembling the greetings.

The story behind the creation of the "interstellar message" is chronicled in the book, "Murmurs of Earth", by Carl Sagan, et al. Unfortunately, not much information is given about the individual speakers. Many of the speakers were from Cornell University and the surrounding communities. They were given no instructions on what to say other than that it was to be a greeting to possible extraterrestrials and that it must be brief. The following is an excerpt by Linda Salzman Sagan from the book:

"During the entire Voyager project, all decisions were based on the assumption that there were two audiences for whom the message was being prepared - those of us who inhabit Earth and those who exist on the planets of distant stars."

"We were principally concerned with the needs of people on Earth during this section of the recording. We recorded messages from populations all over the globe, each representative speaking in the language of his or her people, instead of sending greetings in one or two languages accompanied by keys for their decipherment. We were aware that the latter alternative might have given the extraterrestrials a better chance of understanding the words precisely, though it would have raised the thorny question of which two languages to send. We felt it was fitting that Voyager greet the universe as a representative of one community, albeit a complex one consisting of many parts. At least the fact that many different languages are represented should be clear from the very existence of a set of short statements separated by pauses and from internal evidence - such as the initial greeting "Namaste," which begins many of the greetings from the Indian subcontinent. The greetings are an aural Gestalt, in which each culture is a contributing voice in the choir. After all, by sending a spaceship out of our solar system, we are making an effort to de-provincialize, to rise above our nationalistic interests and join a commonwealth of space-faring societies, if one exists."

"We made a special effort to record those languages spoken by the vast majority of the world's inhabitants. Since all research and technical work on the record had to be accomplished within a period of weeks, we began with a list of the world's most widely spoken languages, which was provided by Dr. Steven Soter of Cornell. Carl suggested that we record the twenty-five most widely spoken languages. If we were able to accomplish that, and still had time, we would then try to include as many other languages as we could."

"The organization of recording sessions and the arduous legwork involved in finding, contacting and convincing individual speakers was handled by Shirley Arden, Carl's executive assistant, Wendy Gradison, then Carl's editorial assistant, Dr. Steven Soter, and me. The master table, reproduced on pages 134 through 143, which shows each of the languages, the speaker's name, their comments in the original language, an English translation, and the real and fractional number of human beings who speak that language, was largely Shirley's idea. We contacted various members of the Cornell language departments, who cooperated with us on very short notice and provided numerous speakers, even though school was ending and many people were leaving for summer vacations. Other speakers were more difficult to find. sometimes it meant sitting for hours, telephoning friends of friends who might know someone who could speak, let's say, the Chinese Wu dialect. After finding such a person, we had to determine whether he or she would be available during the hours when the recording sessions had been scheduled. Even while the recording sessions were going on, we were still trying to find and recruit speakers of languages not yet represented. Often people waiting to record would suggest names of individuals fluent in the very languages we were looking for. Immediately we called those people, explained the project and our plight, and asked them to come at once. Many people did just that."

"Bishun Khare, a senior physicist in the Laboratory for Planetary Studies, was responsible almost singlehandedly for the participation of the Indian speakers. He personally called friends and member of the Cornell Indian community, explaining the undertaking to them and asked for and received their cooperation."

"There were only a few disappointments, where someone had agreed to come to a recording session, could not and forgot to let us know in time for us to make other arrangements. It wasn't always possible to find replacements at the last minute, so there are some regrettable omissions - Swahili is one."

All the greetings, written in the appropriate language, translated to English, and with the name of the speakers, are included in the book. A CD-ROM, which accompanied the 1992 version of the book, included the spoken versions.


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    Basically, this book is the story behind the creation of the record, and includes a full list of everything on the record. "Murmurs of Earth", originally published in 1978, was reissued in 1992 by Warner News Media with a CD-ROM that replicates the Voyager record.

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    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 ...

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    An intergalactic message in a bottle, the Voyager Golden Record was launched into space late in the summer of 1977. Conceived as a sort of advance promo disc advertising planet Earth and its inhabitants, it was affixed to Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, spacecraft designed to fly to the outer reaches of the solar system and beyond, providing data and documentation of Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and ...

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    The other two are 13 billion miles from Earth on Voyager 1 and 2. Despite his requests, even Carl Sagan never received a copy. Just getting a glimpse of a Golden Record is difficult, reports ...

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    Images on the Golden Record. The following is a listing of pictures electronically placed on the phonograph records which are carried onboard the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft. 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 ...

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    The Voyager spacecraft showcasing where the Golden Record is mounted. Credit: NASA/JPL. The drawing in the lower left-hand corner of the cover is the pulsar map previously sent as part of the plaques on Pioneers 10 and 11. It shows the location of the solar system with respect to 14 pulsars, whose precise periods are given.

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    A golden phonograph record was attached to each of the Voyager spacecraft that were launched almost 25 years ago. One of the purposes was to send a message to extraterrestrials who might find the spacecraft as the spacecraft journeyed through interstellar space. In addition to pictures and music and sounds from earth, greetings in 55 languages ...