Chuck Berry, the grandfather of rock ‘n’ roll, passed away on March 18 at the age of 90. During his lifetime he was instrumental in the creation of one of the 1950’s seminal music genres, and was one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. John Lennon once said of the Missouri-born singer, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”
While his music moved us mere mortals on Earth, Berry’s music might find another audience: aliens.
His hit “Johnny B. Goode” is one of the 27 songs that was sent into space on the “Golden Record,” a collection of music, sound recordings, photographs, and other Earth relics attached to the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts. Launched in 1977 to explore the depths of the outer solar system and beyond, the two Voyager units became the first human-made objects to reach interstellar space in 2012, meaning they are now floating around beyond our known solar system. The Golden Record was a cultural addition to the astronomical expedition: The thinking went that if NASA really did find any extraterrestrial life out there, they might like to know a little bit about us.
Curated for NASA by a committee chaired by none other than Carl Sagan, the discs also feature recordings from Bach and Beethoven, as well as a Peruvian panpipe band, a Mexican mariachi cohort, Georgian folk music, and Navajo chanting. (“Johnny B. Goode” is the only rock ‘n’ roll song featured on the discs.)
Non-musical content on the discs include a variety of sounds from Earth such as waves, traffic, thunder, and whale songs, 116 images including mathematical equations, photographs of the planets in our solar system, and anatomical drawings of humans, and an hour-long recording of Ann Druyan’s brainwaves, who later became Sagan’s wife. They also contain spoken recordings of greetings in over 50 different languages, from Rajasthani to Telugu. Many are simply variations on hellos, but some got a little more creative, such as Sweden’s contribution: “Greetings from a computer programmer in the small university town of Ithaca on planet Earth.”
When the Voyagers were sent on their undefined journeys in 1977, US president Jimmy Carter cast this message into the cosmos:
“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. We hope some day, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe.”
Take it away, Chuck.
This story was updated to reflect that The Golden Record was also sent on the Voyager 2 spacecraft in addition to Voyager 1.