Suspension of Disbelief: The Voyager Golden Record Adrift in a Cosmic Ocean

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Suspension of Disbelief: The <i>Voyager</i> Golden Record Adrift in a Cosmic Ocean

Science fiction has a plethora of ideas about what happened in the past and what to expect from the future. Unfortunately, not all of those ideas are exactly plausible in reality. In Suspension of Disbelief, we’ll take a look at the best ideas from sci-fi movies, books, comics and videogames to see where (and if) they intersect with the real world.


NASA launched Pioneer 10 and 11 knowing that the probes would eventually leave the Solar System and travel to distant stars. As a rather last minute addition, the two probes were equipped with small plaques that showed what humans look like and where we lived in the galactic neighborhood, just in case the spacecrafts were ever found by any advanced extraterrestrials. Because of their limited size though, the plaques could only include incredibly basic information.

The next time NASA launched probes destined for other stars, with Voyager 1 and 2 in 1977, they decided to expand upon the Pioneer plaques. The Voyagers were each equipped with a golden phonograph record that would tell the story of humanity to any extraterrestrial species that might chance upon them. Curated by a committee headed by astrophysicist Carl Sagan, the Golden Records contain greetings from over 50 languages, both natural and artificial sounds from Earth, a selection of music from 27 countries including Bach, Beethoven, and Chuck Berry, and the encoded information of 116 images that allow glimpses into what life is like on Earth.

Ostensibly, the Voyager records are intended for some sort of extraterrestrial life, but as Sagan described it, it’s like throwing a message in a bottle into the cosmic ocean. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, an alien race stumbles upon a Voyager probe, but the actual chances of that are slim to none. Instead, the records act more as a self-portrait of humanity, a way for us to view ourselves. Sagan’s committee deliberately left out any images of war, poverty, nationalism, ideology, and religion, in order to show a human race that is diverse and harmonious.

Click through the gallery to see a sample of the images Sagan and company picked to represent the human race in the minute chance that they were ever discovered by an alien intelligence.

Based in New York City, Cameron Wade is a freelance writer interested in movies, videogames, comic books and more. You can find more of his thoughts and ramblings at