Monday, September 10, 2007

The Billion-Year Record

Last week was the 30th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1. In the New York Times, Timothy Ferris reflected on the gold-plated phonograph records that were attached to Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2. Ferris writes that the “information [i.e., a collection of sounds and images of life on Earth] etched into the grooves of the records is expected to last at least one billion years.”

Near the end of his article, Ferris concludes that “the very existence of the two spacecraft and the gold records they carry suggests that there is something in the human spirit able to confront vast sweeps of space and time that we can only dimly comprehend.” Perhaps it is this confrontation with the “mind-boggling” limits of known time and space that inspired the title of this piece, “The Mix Tape of the Gods.”

Something of the divine-like ambitions of the Voyager program is present in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). This was one of the first movies I ever saw and I found it be excruciatingly boring (I believe it put me to sleep)—but the set-up is worth recalling here. A damaged voyager spacecraft is found by an alien race of machines, who believe the spacecraft’s origin and mission to be divine. They fix it up to collect information and return to god (i.e., Earth), with disastrous results (until, of course, the Enterprise shows up to save the universe). I suppose an alternative sub-title of “The Collector of the Gods” would have given too much away.

Link to the Times article:

Link to the Voyager web site (and source of image):