We Almost Sent John Lennon's Voice Into Space, But Alas
In 1977, NASA sent the Voyager Golden Records into space, two discs engraved with messages for aliens. We'd previously sent plaques aboard the Pioneer spacecraft with a few carvings, chiefly of a nude woman and man, but the Voyager records contain much more. They contain over 100 images—no nude photos, though Carl Sagan had wanted to include those, but nude diagrams, and also photos of art, nature, architecture, and technology.
The records contained printed messages from the president and the UN, and also the words "per aspera ad astra" in Morse code. Now, you might argue that there's no way aliens would understand English text, and absolutely no way they'd understand Morse code. This is probably true; we included these as symbolic gestures. But we also included a lot of audio on the discs that aliens could totally manage to listen to, if they manage to rotate them in a suitable device at the right speed. And they don't need to know any human language to understand music.
The songs are in different languages and from different cultures. We even included whale songs, since animals are earthlings too. Along with all the folk and classical music, we included one rock-and-roll song: Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." Producer Timothy Ferris also tried to get John Lennon to do an original recording. But though Lennon was up for this, and helped with the project in other ways, he couldn't show up to record. He had temporarily slipped out of the United States, over a dispute with the IRS.
There was also the possibility of engraving existing music by Lennon and The Beatles, though, right? According to the project's creative director Ann Druyan and chair Carl Sagan, they sought to include The Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun," and the band agreed. But The Beatles didn't own the copyright to their own track. EMI did, and they were charging a licensing fee of $100,000, which was five times the project's entire budget.
Ferris denies that they ever sought that song, calling it just a rumor—guess that wasn't a project-wide venture. According to him, the "Sun" reference would make for a pretty lame joke. We don't know about that. Everyone was pretty happy when Tesla sent that roadster into space blaring "Space Oddity." Tesla didn't disclose how much they paid in licensing fees for that track. We imagine they had a bigger budget than the Voyager Records' $18,000.
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