1 of 32
This undated image provided by NASA shows the cover of the 12-inch gold-plated copper disk that both Voyager spacecraft carry. The phonograph record contains sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

There are records that are iconic and those that can be described as "out of this world" — the Voyager Golden Record is both.

It has been 40 years since the records left the Earth on a journey to the outer planets and then into the unknown.

In 1977, Voyager I and Voyager II launched from Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the solar system’s outer planets and beyond. The nature of the spacecraft heading out into space is what inspired scientists to include the golden records on the side of the each Voyager craft, in the case it was ever found by extraterrestrial life, according to the book "Murmurs of Earth" by Carl Sagan.

The songs included span a variety of genres, from Eastern to classical to jazz and everywhere in between.

According to Sagan, the Beatles song "Here Comes the Sun" was also considered. The band liked the idea, but record company opposed the move.

The record contains not only music, but also includes greetings in 55 languages, sounds of nature and pictures of the world.

"The sound essay was conceived for two audiences: the human and extraterrestrial," wrote Sagan. "In the former we hoped to evoke smile of recognition, and in the latter a sense of the variety of the auditory experiences that are part of life on Earth."

"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," said then President Jimmy Carter on the recording.

Then United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim also recorded a message on the records.

As the name suggests the Voyager Golden Record is different from other records, in part, due to its construction. According to NASA’s website, the records are made with gold-plated copper and the case was made of aluminum with "an ultra-pure sample of the isotope uranium-238" applied to the exterior.

Previous satellites, the Pioneer 10 and 11 missions, were the first to be sent on a journey out of the solar system. At the time the satellites were equipped with a simple plate that showed the earth’s celestial coordinates and an anatomical representation of two people, a man and a woman.

NASA via Associated Press
FILE - In this Aug. 4, 1977 photo provided by NASA, the "Sounds of Earth" record is mounted on the Voyager 2 spacecraft in the Safe-1 Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., prior to encapsulation in the protective shroud. Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of NASA's launch of Voyager 2, now almost 11 billion miles distant.

On September 12, 2013, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was the "first human-made object to venture into interstellar space," according to a NASA press release. The craft transmits data back over a billion miles away from Earth by communicating with with a series of satellite dishes spread around the world, which are called the Deep Space Network.

1 comment on this story

Since the Voyager missions launched in the 70s, there has only been one mission sent on a trajectory out of the solar system — the New Horizons mission. Unlike the missions before it the New Horizons spacecraft did not carry a plaque or golden record. Since its launch, a project called the "One Earth Message" has been collecting signatures to petition NASA into uploading user submitted content onto the craft's computers. According to the project's website, "NASA is currently reviewing the project with great interest. NASA has said that it is pleased to participate in the effort and the New Horizons mission has agreed to upload it."

The legacy of the Voyager Golden record continues on Earth as well. In 2016, California based Ozma Records launched a Kickstarter to produce the records listeners on Earth. The company plans to produce vinyls as well as CDs for Voyager enthusiasts to commemorate 40 years since the Voyager Missions.

Learn more about the golden records and the missions on NASA's website.