Inspiration Information — Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan

by aaron on August 15, 2010

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” –Carl Sagan

sagandruyan

I am a collector of stories.  As a writer it’s part of my profession.  But it’s also a lifelong obsession, a hobby that consumes as much as it inspires me.  As a result I have heard a lot of love stories in my life.  But the one that follows is by far the most romantic, mythic story I have ever heard.

In the Summer of 1977, nearly a decade after Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon and the Race for Space swept through American conscious like a meteor storm… Nasa launched a special mission of a very personal nature.  It was called the Voyager Interstellar Mission, and it’s goal was to send two spacecraft into the greater expanses of the universe, carrying an ultimate mix tape of the human experience — recorded onto a golden record designed to survive for a billion years.

Sound like the plot to a James Cameron movie?  Hold on to your skeptical sense of awe.   It only gets better in the details…

Here is the message President Jimmy Carter inscribed on the spacecraft:

We cast this message into the cosmos… Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some — perhaps many — may have inhabited planets and space faring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message: We are trying 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.

Now then, the question remains how do you condense the core essence of humanity into a series of sounds and images, recorded on a single album?  What message do we as a race wish to express in this galactic timecapsule —  this cosmic message -in-a-bottle cast out into the vast ocean of space?

And here is where our story picks up momentum.  Enter Carl Sagan — preeminent astronomer and astrophysicist.  Author of the paradigm shifting novels Cosmos, Contact, and Pale Blue Dot.  Carl was hired to spearhead this bizarre mission with the overwhelming responsibility of conveying all the hopes, dreams and wonders of an entire planet.  To handpick the very best our culture and society has to offer, all that is universal, elemental and (fingers-crossed Carl!)… eternal.   No small task to say the least.

Fortunately Carl had help.  Enter Ann Druyan, creative director of the project.  Long time professional acquaintances, Carl and Ann worked closely together to compile the 115 images, the 90 minute selection of world music, the sounds of nature, man and animal that would form the ultimate mix tape.

Ann describes the mission in her own words below:

“Two Spacecraft lifted off from the planet earth. moving at an average speed of 35,000 miles per hour for the next thousand million years. And on it would be a kiss, a mother’s first words to her new born baby, mozart, bach, beethoven, greetings in the worlds 59 most populous languages, as well as one non-human language — the greetings of the humpback whales.  And it was a sacred undertaken because it was saying ‘we want to be citizens of the cosmos.  We want you to know about us.'”

There is something deeply poetic about the human psyche in undertaking such an improbable missive.  The desire to reach out and make contact, the belief that we can know and be known by beings and worlds beyond ourselves is more revealing to me of the core Human capacity  for curiosity and hope and love, than anything that could be encoded into the thin grooves of a vinyl track.

Which is why the real story for me, the one that touches the base resonance of my storyteller heart, is not that of the Voyager Interstellar Mission at all, but rather of Carl and Ann sending out their personal timecapsules into the unknown void of love and finding each other.

And so it happened that two working friends, who had barely flirted andnever kissed… called each other late one night to share in the excitement of a 2500 year old chinese song that would be included on the mixtape.  And over the course of that random conversation, in the context of developing this huge, odd, beautiful project… something profound and completely unexpected happened.  Carl and Ann fell in love.  Just like that.  Like a rocket bursting through the atmosphere into the clarity of space, Carl and Ann knew… they were meant for each other.

Carl said, “I’ve been waiting for this call for 10 years.”  By the time they hung up, they were engaged to be married.  A month later, on august 20th, the voyager spacecrafts lifted off.   On august 22, Carl and Ann announced their engagement.  They were together every day after until Carl’s death in 1996.

Two days after that fateful phone call, Ann checked into the neurological department at Bellevue, New York for the final element of the golden mix-tape.  It was Ann’s grand idea to measure the electrical impulses of the human brain and nervous system, convert that into a sound and then put that onto the record.  Perhaps alien civilizations in the distant future might find a way to decode the sounds back into human thought.

So for an hour, Ann meditated on the wonders of love and being in love while electrical nodes recorded her brainwaves into harmonic vibrations.  And right now, somewhere 17 billion km from earth, all the newness and joy of Ann and Carl’s love is hurtling still toward some other pale planet, where perhaps another sentient being will find it washed up on the shore, will pull the golden message from its bottle and read what the human experience is really all about.

Thank you NPR for the incredible story.  I highly recommend checking out their link and hearing Ann Druyan tell the story in her own words.

One comment

[…] Around Valentine’s Day, we explored the inexplicable beauty of human experience through the inspiring true love story of Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan. […]

by Inspiration Information — Year in Review |Twin Ink on January 3, 2011 at 2:33 am. Reply #

Leave your comment

Required.

Required. Not published.

If you have one.