The Master Recording of NASA’s Voyager Golden Record Heads to Auction

Sotheby's is offering up the original tapes of the audio included on the two interstellar probes that are the furthest man-made objects from Earth.

The call of a humpback whale, a Navajo night chant and the brain waves of a woman falling in love… these are just some of the sounds recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, the phonograph time capsule affixed to spacecraft Voyager 1 and 2. As the space-faring record continues on its now 46-year journey through the emptiness, the Golden Record’s master recording is expected to fetch $600,000 at auction later this month.

Two audio reels stood up next to white pamphlets with audio descriptions
The copy of the Voyager Golden Record will be sold at Sotheby’s on July 27. Sotheby's

The copy comes from the collection of the notable couple who spearheaded the Voyager Golden Record project. Carl Sagan, the famed Cornell University astronomy professor and Cosmos host, and documentary producer and director Ann Druyan, the creative director of NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Message Project, assembled the sound essay over a six-month period in the 1970s.

“Bursting with the myriad sounds of life, Carl and I and our colleagues designed the Golden Record to be a testament to the beauty of being alive on Earth,” said Druyan in a statement, adding that the record aimed to “capture the richness and diversity of our world.” Designed to communicate the culture of Earth’s people to possible space-faring civilizations, the record could circumnavigate the Milky Way for billions of years, according to Sotheby’s, which will sell the master recording on July 27 in the first auction of objects related to NASA’s Voyager Mission.

Two men dressed in white suits and posing next to spacecraft hold golden record in their hands
NASA workers mounting the recording to the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Corbis via Getty Images

Identical copies of the record were attached to NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 when they launched in 1977 and slingshot out of the solar system in different directions. Since then, the cultural capsules have become the furthest man-made objects from Earth, and to this day, the robotic interstellar probes continue to regularly communicate with our planet.

What’s on the Voyager Golden Record?

The master recording of the Voyager Golden Record contains greetings in 59 different languages, a plethora of sounds from nature and 27 pieces of music. Scores by Bach and Beethoven were also included, as were a Peruvian wedding song, an Indian vocal raga and tracks from Chuck Berry and Louis Armstrong. The traveling records also contains 115 images picturing snapshots of human life, with photos of Olympic sprinters, a woman in a grocery store and the Golden Gate Bridge among them.

Golden-covered record attached to beige covering of spacecraft
The Voyager Gold Record attached to a space probe circa 1977. Space Frontiers/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Eight copies of the Voyager Golden Record were created, including the two currently on the spacecraft. Made of copper and plated in gold, the cover of the famous capsule contained an electroplated sample of isotope Uranium-238, which has a half-life of 4.468 billion years, to serve as a way of showing any future finders how much time passed. In addition to a hand-carved inscription reading, “To the makers of music—all words, all times,” the record was etched with scientific hieroglyphics of our star’s address, the unit of time for the speed of the record and instructions on how to play it.

“Almost half a century since their creation, these tapes, which have never been out of our possession since they were made, present a unique opportunity for a collector to obtain the only original version of the first object to cross the heliopause, that place where the solar wind gives way to the gales of interstellar cosmic rays—it may be the only thing that will live on after everything we know is gone,” said Druyan.

The Master Recording of NASA’s Voyager Golden Record Heads to Auction