The image of the 'golden record' that was placed on both Voyager spacecrafts has come to represent many of the attributes, both cultural and scientific, that Carl Sagan spent his life promoting.
The 12 inch gold-plated disk contains a message, a telling of the human story. On it one can find the sounds from nature (from waves crashing on the shore, to birds chirping, and the roll of thunder), spoken greetings in 55 human languages, and musical compositions from around the globe. Additionally the disks contain images from Earth and instructions on how to use the disks. The contents of these records were chosen by a NASA committee lead by Carl Sagan.
Voyager 1 left our solar system in 2004. Although this spacecraft is currently further from Earth than any other man made object excepting Pioneers 10 and 11, it will still be 40,000 years before it is in the proximity of any planetary system.
By placing a message on craft that won't be intercepted till well after the demise of human kind, both Sagan and NASA exhibited a rare form of public pride in humanity -- the notion that even though humans are a tiny and rare occurrence, seemingly insignificant on the galactic scale, our story is worth telling.
To quote Sagan: The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.
For more detail consult NASA's page on the golden record.
To experience the content of the golden records check out re-lab's site.
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