How the Voyager Golden Record happened (and no, The Beatles actually weren't on the wishlist)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2, the first of the two spacecraft that carried the Golden Record on a grand tour of the solar system and into the mysteries of interstellar space. Science journalist Timothy Ferris produced this enchanting phonograph record that tells a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science for any extraterrestrial intelligence that may encounter it. Tim wrote a beautiful essay telling the story behind the Voyager record for the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set that I co-produced. And today you can read an adaptation of it over at The New Yorker. Happy anniversary to Voyager 2 and the Golden Record! From the New Yorker:

I’m often asked whether we quarreled over the selections. We didn’t, really; it was all quite civil. With a world full of music to choose from, there was little reason to protest if one wonderful track was replaced by another wonderful track. I recall championing Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night,” which, if memory serves, everyone liked from the outset. Ann stumped for Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” a somewhat harder sell, in that Carl, at first listening, called it “awful.” But Carl soon came around on that one, going so far as to politely remind Lomax, who derided Berry’s music as “adolescent,” that Earth is home to many adolescents. Rumors to the contrary, we did not strive to include the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” only to be disappointed when we couldn’t clear the rights.

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Students pay $1.20 for 5 vintage NASA flight suits at thrift store

Talia Rappa and Skyler Ashworth spotted a nondescript box at a Florida thrift store's going-out-of-business sale. They found five NASA flight suits, worth tens of thousands of dollars, and paid just $1.20 for the lot. Read the rest

Preview what Monday's eclipse will look like in your ZIP Code

As eclipse mania grips the nation, Vox has created a nifty interactive eclipse map of what to expect in every American ZIP Code. Read the rest

A map for extraterrestrials to find Earth

In 1971, astronomer Frank Drake, the father of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, drew a map pinpointing Earth in our galaxy. That diagram, a "pulsar map," was etched on a plaque designed by Frank and Carl Sagan and first carried into space in 1972 by the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft. In 1977, the pulsar map would appear again etched on the covers of the golden records affixed to the the Voyager probes. These days, Frank's original pencil drawing of the map is stored in an old tomato box at his house. (In fact, Frank kindly allowed us to scan it for our book included in our new Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set!) Over at National Geographic, Nadia Drake, one of my favorite science journalists who also happens to be Frank's daughter, tells the fascinating story of this iconic piece of cosmic cartography. From National Geographic:

The question was, how do you create such a map in units that an extraterrestrial might understand?

...To my dad, the answer was obvious: pulsars. Discovered in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, these dense husks of expired stars were perfect blazes in both space and time.

For starters, pulsars are incredibly long-lived, staying active for tens of millions to multiple billions of years.

Also, each pulsar is unique. They spin almost unbelievably fast, and they emit pulses of electromagnetic radiation like lighthouses. By timing those pulses, astronomers can determine a pulsar’s spin rate to a ridiculous degree of accuracy, and no two are alike.

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The Voyager Golden Record on NBC Nightly News

Last night, NBC Nightly News aired the wonderful video below about the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set I produced with my friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad! Forty years ago this month, NASA launched two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, on a grand tour of the solar system and beyond, into the mysteries of interstellar space. Mounted to each spacecraft is a golden phonograph record, a message to introduce our civilization to extraterrestrials, perhaps billions of years from now. The Voyager Golden Record tells a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science. As Lawrence said in the video, "it's a lovely reminder of what it means to be a human." Thank you to NBC Nightly News!

(GIF via Electric Space Kool-Aid)

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For sale: giant lab "gantries," slightly used, FOB Indiana

Indiana U is selling off a huge lot of lab equipment, including these space-pod-looking gantries. Winning bidder is responsible for dismantling and shipping. "To give someone an idea of how large these are, there are two pits that they sit in. Each of the pits are 28'x35'x10' deep." Read the rest

Why NASA's Voyager mission almost didn't happen

On August 20 and September 5, 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, on a grand tour of the solar system and into the mysteries of interstellar space. It was an incredibly audacious mission, and it's still going. My friend Timothy Ferris produced the Voyager golden record that's attached to each of the spacecraft and went on to write a dozen enlightening books about science and culture. (Tim also wrote the liner notes for the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set I co-produced that's now available here.) In the new issue of National Geographic, Tim tells the remarkable story of the Voyager mission and why "it almost didn’t happen." From National Geographic:

The prospect of a “grand tour” of the outer planets emerged in 1965 from the musings of an aeronautics graduate student named Gary Flandro, then working part-time at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the world’s preeminent center for interplanetary exploration. At age six, Flandro had been given Wonders of the Heavens, a book that showed the planets lined up like stepping-stones. “I thought about how neat it would be to go all the way through the solar system and pass each one of those outer planets,” he recalled.

Assigned at JPL to envision possible missions beyond Mars, Flandro plotted the future positions of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune with paper and pencil. He found that they would align in such a way that a spacecraft could tap the planets’ orbital momentum to slingshot from one to the next, gaining enough velocity to visit all four planets within 10 or 12 years rather than the decades such a venture would require otherwise.

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The Voyager Golden Record now available as a vinyl box set

Forty years ago this month, NASA launched two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, on a grand tour of the solar system and beyond, into the mysteries of interstellar space. Mounted to each spacecraft is a golden phonograph record, a message to introduce our civilization to extraterrestrials, perhaps billions of years from now. The Voyager Golden Record tells a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science. The Voyager Golden Record is a gift from humanity to the cosmos, but it’s also a gift to humanity. It lies at the intersection of science and art to spark the imagination, and delivers a dose of hope that so many of us are jonesing for these days. Two years ago, my friends Timothy Daly, Lawrence Azerrad, and I embarked on a long journey to release the Voyager Golden Record as a box set of vinyl LPs so those on Earth can hear it as it was meant to be played. We were humbled by the incredible support our project received. (You can read about our experience in the project updates here.)

Ten months after our Kickstarter ended, the enthusiasm and excitement around the Voyager anniversary and the golden record continues to increase. We feel very fortunate that the story of this historical artifact resonates with so many people! As promised, we will never reproduce the Kickstarter "40th Anniversary Edition" box set again. Our Kickstarter backers took the journey with us and we are deeply grateful. However, for those who were not able to participate in the Kickstarter, we have decided to repress the Voyager Golden Record in a different edition than the one our Kickstarter backers will receive. Read the rest

1966 space documentary shows earliest attempts to eat in zero gravity

In 1962, the Mercury program sought to find out if humans could eat in space. This interesting 1966 film captures some of the early trial and error. Read the rest

NASA seeks 'Planetary Protection Officer'

NASA has a rare job opening for a new "Planetary Protection Office." Responsibilities do not include defending Earth from an impending alien invasion.

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Terrific nerdy t-shirts celebrate space exploration

Czech designer Michal Sobel couldn't deal with the ad world any more, so he left to make art celebrating his favorite thing: space exploration. Read the rest

Quindar remixes NASA's audiovisual archives (and you can dance to it!)

Quindar is a fantastically far out project to remix NASA's weird and wonderful sound and film archives into a new audiovisual experience of electronic music and video cut-ups. Created by my friends Mikael Jorgensen of Wilco and art historian/curator James Merle Thomas, Quindar's recordings and live performances are a wonderful hyperreal trip into the human history of space exploration. Indeed, their just-released album "Hip Mobility" is essential listening for all Earthlings jonesing for a new kind of cosmic kick. I recommend going for the stellar vinyl package, created by Lawrence Azerrad/LADdesign who partnered with Tim Daly and I on the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition.

Below, have a listen to Quindar's Hip Mobility and also hear an interview with Mikael and James on the latest episode of NPR's Science Friday.

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Experience the Voyager Golden Record at San Francisco's Exploratorium, August 3

On August 3 in celebration of the 40th anniversary month of the Voyager interstellar mission, please join me at San Francisco's Exploratorium to experience the Voyager Golden Record with two of the brilliant minds behind it -- SETI pioneer Frank Drake and science writer Timothy Ferris.

In August and September 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, on a grand tour of the solar system and beyond, into the mysteries of interstellar space. Mounted to each spacecraft is a golden phonograph record, a message to introduce our civilization to extraterrestrials, perhaps billions of years from now. Ozma Records, the label I co-founded with my friend Timothy Daly, is releasing the Voyager Golden Record as a box set of vinyl LPs so those on Earth can hear it as it was meant to be played. The accompanying book contains all of the images encoded on the Voyager record, an original essay by Timothy Ferris, and a gallery of photos transmitted back from the probes. As our co-producer/designer Lawrence Azerrad has said, "It is the ultimate album package of the ultimate album package." (The limited edition super-deluxe Kickstarter edition will not be repressed but please keep an eye on our Twitter feed @ozmarecords for announcements from us in the next few weeks.)

At the Exploratorium's August 3 After Dark event, themed around "Our Place in Space," we'll play the Voyager Record on the museum's incredible Meyer Sound system while projecting the images encoded on the disc. Then, at 8pm, Frank Drake and Timothy Ferris will join me on stage to discuss this incredible artifact that was a gift from humanity to the cosmos, but also a gift to humanity. Read the rest

Cool 360-degree video of a rocket launch

Airbus mounted a 360-degree camera on a rocket being launched as part of a microgravity experiment, and the result it pretty phenomenal. Watch the stages separate and the earth's curvature reveal itself as the Maxus 9 pops up through the clouds.

Via Airbus:

Following a successful launch of Maxus 9 the largest European sounding rocket with scientific micro gravity experiments, Airbus is providing a stunning 360° view from space. The spacecraft, launched from the Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden, was equipped by Airbus with support from their joint venture partner Swedish Space Corporation in order to provide unique 360° footage of the launch from the rocket perspective. Viewers can see spectacular images of the take-off, down to Lapland getting smaller while the rocket soars into the sky, then spectacular views of the Planet and Space once the sounding rocket goes through the atmosphere and reaches its highest altitude of 700km, before the payload falls free back down to earth, and completes its’ parachute-assisted touchdown.

The Maxus programme is a joint venture between Swedish Space Corporation and Airbus, providing access to microgravity for ESA-contracted experiments. Sounding rockets are important to the scientific community as they offer research institutes a one-stop lab in which they can perform micro-gravity experiments. Technicians receive data and can adjust parameters thanks to real-time transmission to ground stations throughout the free fall time. Being able to launch, monitor and retrieve experiments in one day enables researchers to analyze their results almost immediately.

360 degree video of sounding rocket's Maxus 9 launch (YouTube / Airbus Defence and Space) Read the rest

Old NASA computers and space probe data tapes found in dead engineer's basement

A scrap dealer cleaning out a deceased engineer's basement in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania found two massive 1960s computers, magnetic tape data storage systems, and hundreds of tape reels, all of which was marked as the property of NASA. The scrap dealer called NASA to report what he found and the agency's Office of the Inspector General investigated. It turns out that the fellow was an IBM engineer who worked for NASA in the early 1970s and was given permission to save the stuff as it was being discarded. One space agency's trash is another maker's treasure... From Ars Technica:

"Please tell NASA these items were not stolen," the engineer's heir told the scrap dealer, according to the (Office of Insepctor General's) report. "They belonged to IBM Allegheny Center Pittsburgh, PA 15212. During the 1968-1972 timeframe, IBM was getting rid of the items so [redacted engineer] asked if he could have them and was told he could have them...."

NASA investigators picked up the 325 magnetic data tape reels on December 8, 2015. The cassettes measured 14 inches in diameter and were filled with half-inch magnetic tape. The tapes "were in poor condition and almost all were affected by moderate to severe mould."

Most of the tapes were not labelled, but "of the tapes that were labelled, the content appeared to be space science related with missions including Pioneer and Helios and the inclusive date range was 1967-1974."

NASA told the family of the deceased that it was not in the junk removal business.

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What a rocket launch looks like from space

Usually we only get to see what a rocket launch looks like from ground level.

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Watch: A new NASA documentary narrated by William Shatner

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia turns 100 this year. In celebration, the space agency produced this short documentary and enlisted Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, to narrate. Here are just a few highlights from NASA Langley's incredible history:

• In times of peace and war, NASA Langley helped to create a better airplane, including unique wing shapes, sturdier structures, the first engine cowlings, and drag cleanup that enabled the Allies to win World War II.

• Langley broke new ground in aeronautical research with a suite of first-of-their-kind wind tunnels that led to numerous advances in commercial, military and vertical flight, such as helicopters and other rotorcraft.

• Langley researchers laid the foundation for the U.S. manned space program, played a critical role in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and developed the lunar-orbit rendezvous concept that made the Moon landing possible.

• Development by Langley of a variety of satellite-borne instrumentation has enabled real-time monitoring of planet-wide atmospheric chemistry, air quality, upper-atmosphere ozone concentrations, the effects of clouds and air-suspended particles on climate, and other conditions affecting Earth’s biosphere.

• Protecting astronauts from harm is the aim of Langley’s work on the Orion Launch Abort System, while its work on materials and structures for lightweight and affordable space transportation and habitation will keep future space travelers safe.

• Helping to create environmentally benign aeronautical technologies has been a focus of Langley research, including concepts to reduce drag, weight, fuel consumption, emissions, and lessen noise.

NASA Langley: Innovation at 100

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