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Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Intersteller Record Hardcover – 12 Oct 1978


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (12 Oct. 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394410475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394410470
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 21.3 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 362,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sagan was Dir. of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies & David Duncan Prof. of Astronomy & Space Sciences at Cornell University.He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking & Voyage expeditions to the planets & was a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for literature. He died in 1996.

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Softcover book

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gulliver on 3 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very interesting book about the Voyager Interstellar record. Divided into sections to describe each aspect of the record. Fascinating to read about the social and political issues involved with the photo and music selections as an attempt was made to fairly represent every nationality of the world.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Through the darkness... 15 Jan. 2004
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
With recently announced initiatives directing us to space exploration once again, and with probes currently investigating the Martian surface, it is worthwhile to look back at a piece of history in the first great era of planetary exploration, whose heyday is arguably the journeys of Voyager I and Voyager II, the last great interplanetary probes to make a grand tour of several (in fact, most) of the planets in our solar system. Considering the difference in technology in our daily lives from the 1970s to the present, it is remarkable indeed that people were able to get such results and spectacular findings from spacecraft that by today's technical standards would be considered substandard and behind-the-times. Yet the Voyager spacecraft had more than just a tour of the home worlds in mind -- unlike most craft humankind has sent into space, these were not planned to return to earth, crash into an atmospher, or get locked into an everlasting orbit of the sun. These were intentionally sent out into interstellar space, beyond the confines of our solar system. One has to wonder, since it will be at least 40,000 years before these craft encounter even the next nearest star on their trajectories, and even if humanity is still around, the transmitters on the Voyager won't be functional -- why send them?
The answer is contained in the attachments to the spacecraft. Each of the two Voyagers was equipped with a record player of sorts (remember those?) and gold-plated copper disc of recordings, including greetings from earth. The recordings were quite remarkable at the time (again modern technology has far surpassed what is attached), including greetings in nearly 90% of current languages, extended greetings from the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the United States, a collection of representative photographs from around the world, and a sampling of music from around the world. These crafts were emissaries from the whole of the earth, and their messages reflected this.
The early chapters of 'Murmurs of Earth' recount the thinking that went into selection and elimination of material -- with very limited space, the selection had to be very intentional. Politics were avoided; this was a celebration of human existence and achievement, much as the Voyager spacecrafts were in and of themselves, and intended to outlast even the most enduring of nations, cultures and even languages. The authors include proposed lists of items that didn't make the final cut, as well as interesting discussion about why what was included made it. Sometimes, things were included by accident rather than design -- the original intention of the message team did not include messages from the UN Secretary-General or the President of the United States, but after Waldheim recorded a salutory message, the team felt they could not but include it (and felt it inappropriate to include the UN message without offering the President the same opportunity; after all, who was bearing the cost of the craft?).
In all, there were 118 pictures, all of which are included in this text, some in photoplates, but most in black-and-white depictions. Some photographs are stunning, and others somewhat silly, but all convey information for a purpose (for example, the photograph showing eating and drinking was a constructed photo by the team; the difficulties of depicting these tasks became apparent as they had to reshoot due to difficulties understanding the images). Most of the recording, however, is music -- music from different cultures around the world is included, from Bach to Louis Armstrong, from Javanese folk music to Chinese music to Stravinsky, music from every continent is included; however, dominant Western music carries the greatest representation, including in addition to Bach and Stravinsky the works of Mozart, Beethoven, and even Gregorian chant.
The record itself is interesting -- attached to the outside of the spacecraft, it had to be secured and protected from space damage; the construction and protection is such that micrometeorite damage should be kept to a minimum. The record's first side (facing in to the spacecraft) should have a 'shelf-life' of a billion years; the outside may sustain more damage, but should be 98% intact for many tens of thousands of years.
Sagan and his collaborators conclude by looking at the mission itself, the parameters, trajectories, and plans. This book was written prior to the Voyagers encounters with the outer planets, which went fairly smoothly, even lasting to Uranus and Neptune as a bonus not always expected. Sagan talks about the interstellar trajectory and likely star system encounters in the distant future. We'll never know where the craft end up, or if the people who discover it will be able to play the phonograph record (there are people on earth now who are technologically advanced who have lost the ability to work well with phonograph records!).
This is a piece of history as well as a piece of the future. It is a symbol of hope and positive outlook, and a great testament to the exploring and communicating efforts of humankind over the past several thousand years.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Through the darkness... 5 Aug. 2005
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
With recently announced initiatives directing us to space exploration once again, with the space shuttle again in orbit, and with the recent announcement of a tenth planet discovered, it is worthwhile to look back at a piece of history in the first great era of planetary exploration, whose heyday is arguably the journeys of Voyager I and Voyager II, the last great interplanetary probes to make a grand tour of several (in fact, most) of the planets in our solar system. Considering the difference in technology in our daily lives from the 1970s to the present, it is remarkable indeed that people were able to get such results and spectacular findings from spacecraft that by today's technical standards would be considered substandard and behind-the-times. Yet the Voyager spacecraft had more than just a tour of the home worlds in mind -- unlike most craft humankind has sent into space, these were not planned to return to earth, crash into an atmospher, or get locked into an everlasting orbit of the sun. These were intentionally sent out into interstellar space, beyond the confines of our solar system. One has to wonder, since it will be at least 40,000 years before these craft encounter even the next nearest star on their trajectories, and even if humanity is still around, the transmitters on the Voyager won't be functional -- why send them?

The answer is contained in the attachments to the spacecraft. Each of the two Voyagers was equipped with a record player of sorts (remember those?) and gold-plated copper disc of recordings, including greetings from earth. The recordings were quite remarkable at the time (again modern technology has far surpassed what is attached), including greetings in nearly 90% of current languages, extended greetings from the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the United States, a collection of representative photographs from around the world, and a sampling of music from around the world. These crafts were emissaries from the whole of the earth, and their messages reflected this.

The early chapters of 'Murmurs of Earth' recount the thinking that went into selection and elimination of material -- with very limited space, the selection had to be very intentional. Politics were avoided; this was a celebration of human existence and achievement, much as the Voyager spacecrafts were in and of themselves, and intended to outlast even the most enduring of nations, cultures and even languages. The authors include proposed lists of items that didn't make the final cut, as well as interesting discussion about why what was included made it. Sometimes, things were included by accident rather than design -- the original intention of the message team did not include messages from the UN Secretary-General or the President of the United States, but after Waldheim recorded a salutory message, the team felt they could not but include it (and felt it inappropriate to include the UN message without offering the President the same opportunity; after all, who was bearing the cost of the craft?).

In all, there were 118 pictures, all of which are included in this text, some in photoplates, but most in black-and-white depictions. Some photographs are stunning, and others somewhat silly, but all convey information for a purpose (for example, the photograph showing eating and drinking was a constructed photo by the team; the difficulties of depicting these tasks became apparent as they had to reshoot due to difficulties understanding the images). Most of the recording, however, is music -- music from different cultures around the world is included, from Bach to Louis Armstrong, from Javanese folk music to Chinese music to Stravinsky, music from every continent is included; however, dominant Western music carries the greatest representation, including in addition to Bach and Stravinsky the works of Mozart, Beethoven, and even Gregorian chant.

The record itself is interesting -- attached to the outside of the spacecraft, it had to be secured and protected from space damage; the construction and protection is such that micrometeorite damage should be kept to a minimum. The record's first side (facing in to the spacecraft) should have a 'shelf-life' of a billion years; the outside may sustain more damage, but should be 98% intact for many tens of thousands of years.

Sagan and his collaborators conclude by looking at the mission itself, the parameters, trajectories, and plans. This book was written prior to the Voyagers encounters with the outer planets, which went fairly smoothly, even lasting to Uranus and Neptune as a bonus not always expected. Sagan talks about the interstellar trajectory and likely star system encounters in the distant future. We'll never know where the craft end up, or if the people who discover it will be able to play the phonograph record (there are people on earth now who are technologically advanced who have lost the ability to work well with phonograph records!).

This is a piece of history as well as a piece of the future. It is a symbol of hope and positive outlook, and a great testament to the exploring and communicating efforts of humankind over the past several thousand years.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A message in a bottle. 15 July 2003
By James Arvo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you had to sum up what Earth is like, what would you say? How would you describe the abundance and diversity of life? How would you summarize all the achievements of mankind? Now, suppose that you were asked to communicate this information to someone who does not speak your language, nor indeed any language that you have ever heard of. Suppose, further, that your audience is apt to interpret pictures, sounds, or symbols in ways that you could not even begin to anticipate. Finally, suppose that this communication must take place via a "message in a bottle", sent off into space, to wash up on some distant "shore", at some inconceivably distant time in the future.
Does this sound far fetched? Well, it shouldn't. This very exercise was carried out in the mid-seventies by a team of scientists with a unique opportunity to send such a message off into space on a pair of spacecraft; the two Viking probes, launched in 1977, that were deployed to explore Jupiter and Saturn. On each of the probes was a gold-plated "phonograph record" that contained a succinct summary of Earth and humanity. The significance of these particular probes was that they were destined to head off into boundless space at the conclusion of their mission. Thus, they were to become the first man-made artifacts to leave the solar system. This was too fantastic an opportunity to miss; "we" (humans) simply had to send a greeting card to whomever/whatever may find the probes.
This book lists and discusses all of the images, sounds, diagrams, and symbols that are recorded on the cosmic greeting cards. There are images of sea shells, plants, trees, insects, buildings, mountains, machines, and most of all, people: people dancing, laughing, talking, eating, and working. There are even cross-sectional illustrations of human anatomy. And there are recordings of greetings in 44 different languages, not to mention songs of humpback whales. All carefully chosen; all with some rationale. As these images, diagrams, and sounds were being assembled the most vexing of all questions had to be asked: How could an alien being stand a chance of decoding the disk? This was a fascinating and crucial scientific question for which several very creative solutions were offered, and all are recorded in this book. Of course, we will never have the opportunity to discover whether these solutions will work, which places them somewhat beyond the ken of science.
Ultimately, the main byproduct of the project was sincere reflection and introspection; it was rightly seen by all participants as a celebration of Earth, its history, and the fabulous diversity of humanity. While the chances that one of the greeting cards will be discovered and correctly interpreted are remote, their very composition was of intrinsic value to humanity in the here and now. I found this book, and the entire project, to be extremely uplifting. Etched on a golden disk, headed to who-knows-where, is a remarkable encapsulation of who we are. It's a wonderful example of science engendering deep contemplation, and drawing upon poetry and art. I'm very happy that this project was recorded so carefully in book form. It's a great story.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
What a Marvelous Idea and Book! 14 Jan. 2004
By Roger D. Launius - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Carl Sagan was one of the most thoughtful and charismatic scientists of the twentieth century. He is well-known for his work on the PBS series "Cosmos," the award-winning show that became the most watched series in public-television history. By more than this, he worked with NASA on numerous projects, including the two Voyager spacecraft that made the "Grand Tour" of the outer planets in the 1970s and 1980s.
He envisioned the ingenius idea of affixing to the Voyager probes a small gold record containing information about this planet, for its potential recovery by an alien species. This book presents a discussion of the conceptionalization and carrying out of the effort to place this gold record on the two Voyager spacecraft sent outside the Solar System. This Voyager Interstellar Record contained digital information on the planet Earth, including photographs, sounds, music, and greetings in more than 40 languages. It was designed to tell an extraterrestrial intelligence who encountered it something about this planet and the life that thrives here, and to give that life form a general idea of where Earth was located in space.
This is a wonderful discussion of this effort, and well worth reading. For those who might be interested, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory--manager of the Voyager project--has a web page devoted to the Voyager Interstellar Record located at [...] On it one may find more on the history of the record and the images, sounds, and music that it contains about this, our home planet.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A HIGH recommendation 12 Jan. 2002
By Lee Richey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It is indeed a pity to realize that this marvelous book is now out of print along with its companion CDs. The thoughtfulness and work that this team of scientists put into preserving a "collective voice" in words, pictures, and music of the human species is remarkable. The Voyager Interstellar Record is affixed to one the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. The record is attached to the craft in the hopes that -- after its already successful mission of having photographed the inner and outer solar system -- it might have even a remote chance of being intercepted thousands of years in the future by whatever extraterrestrials there may be, if any exist at all. The hope is that "they" might find it and learn something about us long after we are gone. The book is a meticulous description of every stage of putting the record together. I have found the book in libraries and have acquired the CDs through an inter-library loan. But the fact that both the book and CDs are no longer in print, and therefore less available to the public, is a huge shame. I highly recommend this book as a purchase for either an individual or a library. It is a testament both to the scientists who put it together, and to the recognition and preservation of human achievement. Curiously, this was done before the invention of the Compact Disc. An Interstellar "Disc" should be done in the future!
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