Just as Georges Bataille enjoins us to imagine the abhorrent transformation that a century of accumulated dust would have had upon the slumbering body of Sleeping Beauty, NASA's intergalactic greeting to the universe in the form of a Golden Record affixed to the exterior hull of the Voyager 1 & 2 spacecraft too would have undergone dramatic changes, as the pummelling of cosmic debris and space dust scrambled its messages and remixed its tracks.

In 1977, the Voyager 1 & 2 began their journey towards the outer regions of our solar system. Aside from their onboard computers, scientific instruments, radio transmitter, and booster rockets, each spacecraft was unusually equipped with a gold-coated copper phonograph record; a time capsule and ‘greeting to the universe’. These two discs were incised with images and audio files intended to communicate man’s collective achievements on Earth to possible extra-terrestrial civilizations.

As the Voyager spacecrafts left their Cape Canaveral launch pad that summer the flames of its Titan boosters marked the first of many hazardous threats to the exposed discs. Radiation from the Sun and stars could certainly damage the records, but the main fear is micrometeorites, tiny microscopic particles that could pit the surface grooves of this cosmic LP hampering it’s alien decryption.

Golden Record Remix by musician Ryan Waldron in 2006. Listen to an excerpt here ︎︎︎

A note about the LP

Each disc consists of 118 photographs, schematic drawings, music, ambient sound, messages from Kurt Waldheim, Secretary General of the United Nations and Jimmy Carter, then President of the United States as well as detailed location maps and diagrams pinpointing the earth’s position within our galaxy. In addition, the records contain greetings spoken in more than 60 languages, including the high-pitched sonic communication of whales. The discs are also encrypted with a pictograph of a man extending his arm in what is apparently a gesture of welcome, encouraging alien visitation to our solar system and planet.

Conceived as an interstellar salutation to the universe, these golden emissaries have now passed the remote planet of Uranus (1986), have left our solar system and are moving into deep-space where another 60,000 years will lapse before either of the Voyager spacecraft will come close to another star. Given the relatively slow rate of movement by these two Voyager spacecraft, the organisation and exact location of stars in our solar vicinity will have shifted, making it difficult to chart a course towards any point some 60,000+ years into the future. Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory involved in calculating the odds of Voyager’s contact with another planetary system have selected AC+79 3888, a red dwarf star of spectral type M4, as the most likely candidate for extra-terrestrial interception of the Voyager spacecraft.

Moreover, scientists believe that since this star is probably much older than our own Sun it is conceivable that “intelligent life evolved there long ago.” Unimpeded in their journey, there is a ‘near certainty that neither Voyager will ever plunge into the planet-rich interior of another solar system’. The Voyagers’ scientific missions have now been completed, and the one last firing of their onboard rocket propulsion system has successfully redirected the spacecraft towards their encounter with destiny. Long after their transmitters have died, far beyond the heliopause, in the far distant future these two phonograph records will continue to move through space, propelled by the gravitational forces of passing matter and energetic force fields.

As project manager, astronomer and writer Carl Sagan, assembled a team of scientists, engineers as well as musicologists and artists to develop the Voyager time capsules. This was not a gesture anchored within the speculative fantasies of science fiction or the charged imaginations of a populace still reverberating from the televised moon landings a few years earlier. The Voyager record and greeting was and still is an ‘earnest’ attempt to make contact with an alien civilisation, to place an intergalactic telephone call into the future with the hopes that something, somewhere will hear its plaintive ringing and respond. Carl Sagan likened the Voyager records to a message in a bottle, thrown into the slipstream of the universe to be retrieved by some beachcombing cosmonaut thousands of years hence.

In a few short years the Voyagers’ onboard computer systems will permanently shut down, as their battery slowly dies having lasted far longer than scientists ever predicted. Already shell-shocked by cosmic debris and bombarded by radiation, the chance that the golden discs will survive unscathed, let alone find their way into the nimble hands an interstellar DJ capable of spinning these discs correctly is indeed a remote possibility.

Likewise, what if years of cosmic bombardment have by now irrevocably damaged the Golden Record, have incised new grooves into its surface and scripted other narrative trajectories? What intergalactic histories are already etched into its copper substrate? What alternative stories might a Voyager remix tell, not sixty thousand years into the future or even ten but rather today?