I’ve always had an interest in space. Like many other people, I’ve looked up at the night sky and wondered about what lies in the distant stars. Will we ever be able to reach them? Are there any other life forms out there thinking the same thing as me. Almost every corner of our planet has currently been explored and in today’s modern world, the increasing flow of information gives us visual access to even the farthest corners of our planet. Nevertheless, it is man’s natural inclination to ponder about the unknown and the uncharted. Thus, whereas the explorers of the 17th and 18th centuries dreamt of distant continents, we now dream of outer space.
But as we look out into space, there is an opportunity to look back at our planet and discover more about ourselves. This brings me to a story that has been haunting me for the past several weeks; that is the story of the Voyager space program. In 1977, NASA launched two space probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, in order to analyze the planetary systems of Jupiter and Saturn. The probes completed their original mission in the late 80s but continued to drift into outer space. On September 2013, NASA reported that Voyager 1 had exited our solar system and entered interstellar space. To think that an object created on this Earth has exited the solar system is incedible. I haven’t done the math but I’m assuming it will take it thousands of years to reach the nearest stellar system. However, it is still interesting to think of the possibly that one day, intelligent beings in another planet might stumble upon the Voyager probes. Well, the folks at NASA thought about this too…
In the extremely unlikely possibility that the Voyager probes may eventually be discovered by an alien civilization, NASA decided to insert a time capsule into the Voyager probes. The capsules, which were in the form of two golden records, would contain sounds and images that would represent the life, the culture and the passion that exists on planet Earth. The contents of the record included greetings messages spoken in 55 modern and ancient languages, sounds such as laughter, rainfall, a car, a kiss, bird, crickets and thunder. The record also contained 90 minutes of music from various cultures across the ages and images depicting life on Earth and other planets in our solar system.
The video above contains the 55 greetings. There are also videos of the pieces of music that were placed into the record. Feel free to look them up if you wish.
I don’t know about you, but there is something touching about this collection. Listening to Mozart, hearing the sound of a mother talking to her baby and being greeted by the languages of the world makes me realize something. At a time when our planet is intensely divided into countries, religions and ideologies, we tend to forget that we are all the same species. We are all human. We all feel the joys of love, the thrill of success and the misery of sadness. I had talked about looking back at ourselves. Voyager 1 looked back at the Earth in 1990 and took this picture.
The picture was named the Pale Blue Dot, which became the title of a book written by Carl Sagan. Unsurprisingly, Carl Sagan chaired the committee which decided the contents of the golden record. In his book, Sagan brilliantly states
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam…
…The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Sagan is absolutely inspiring. This small and overly optimistic project to embody the soul, the spirit and the existence of our planet should makes us realize that despite our differences, we are all the same. So no matter our ethnicity, religion or nationality might be, we should kindly and lovingly approach one another as fellow human beings who all feel the same emotions. And because we are in it together on this Earth, we should work to preserve the wonders of this planet not just for ourselves. Nations spend over a trillion dollars each year on military spending, espionage and national controls. Now I’m not an absolute pacifist. I believe that if a good guy carries a big stick, than a bad guy with a little stick will be less inclined to start a fight. However, it is absolutely possible to focus more of our efforts for ways to unite our world instead of dividing it.
One final piece was added to the golden record before the Voyager probes were launched into space. This is the part of this story that is hauntingly beautiful. The group that oversaw the process decided to record the brainwaves frequencies of Ann Druyan, who also worked on the project, and turn those waves into audio format On the day of the recording, Ann Druya contemplated on what though she should conceive in her mind. It would be a challenging task for any of us. If cosmic beings were to find the records, with what thought or emotion would you want to represent the human race? It is true that this record did not contain some of the harsh realities of our world. When thinking about humanity, it is very possible for our minds to think about war, poverty, inequality, or any other tragedy that occurs on our world on a daily basis and makes us realize that we are not a flawless species. However, that was not the thought that came into Ann’s mind that day. You see, throughout golden record project, Ann worked closely with Carl Sagan. As stated in an interview she gave to NPR in 2010, despite the fact that the two maintained a strictly professional relationship throughout their work, the process of combining the emotions, the passion and the embodiment of mankind, as well as the entire planet Earth, led Ann and Carl to fall madly in love. Two days before her brainwaves Ann’s brainwaves were recorded, the couple got engaged. On the day of the recording, well, I don’t think I can state what happened better than Ann herself.
“I had a one-hour mental itinerary of the information I wished to convey. I began by thinking about the history of Earth and the life it sustains. To the best of my abilities I tried to think something of the history of ideas and human social organization. I thought about the predicament that our civilization finds itself in and about the violence and poverty that make this planet a hell for so many of its inhabitants. Toward the end I only permitted myself a personal statement of what it was like to fall in love”
Love. Despite all the negative occurrences in our world and the emotion that it might bring, Ann decided to represent the soul of mankind by feeling what it is like to be in love. It makes me realize that the human race has limitless potential for compassion and love. As a species, we have already accomplished so much in such a short span of time. We have put men on the moon, connected our entire world via the Internet and mapped the human genome. And we did all that in a world that is unequal, unjust and deeply divided. But, if we were to all share the same compassion and love that Ann felt when recording her brainwaves, then the human race could accomplish so much more.
I know this post has been drastically different than the issues I usually write about. But the next time when you stare up into the starry night and ponder about deep space, enjoy the view, but just like the Voyager, don’t forget to look back on our pale blue dot as well..
On a side note, this song helped me ponder and write about this issue.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
– Dalai Lama XIV