About this time 40 years ago, two spacecraft were speeding away from Earth toward a rendezvous with the outer planets of the solar system. They carried with them, along with scientific instruments, a message from humanity to other beings in the universe, should these beings ever find it (and should they even exist). The message, contained in a gold-plated record, included sounds of the planet’s natural phenomena and wildlife, photos of its people, greetings in dozens of languages, and samplings of music.
It was a trailer for the feature-length film that was Earth, a brief collection of sounds and scenes that teased an entire world.
Now, the two copies of the Golden Record are billions of miles from home. Voyager 1 has carried its record out of the solar system altogether, while Voyager 2 is on its way there. The world today is vastly different than the one they left behind.
Maybe it’s time for a follow-up. Let’s say people got another shot at the Golden Record, a chance to give the cosmos an update. What might they send?
Let’s start with the hardware. The Golden Records are gold-plated copper phonographs that could last hundreds of billions of years. A gold-plated copper version of a flash drive may sound less appealing, but it’s likely that the creators of the Golden Record 2.0 may consider packaging the message using digital technology. Engineers who have worked on robotic missions around the solar system say the hardware would need to be pretty indestructible, capable of surviving extreme temperatures, radiation, and long stretches of time. Unfortunately, humans haven’t yet invented digital tech that meets all these requirements. And that’s okay, according to the people who made the Golden Record.