Voyaging: Reaching Out
Earth soon won't be able to answer, the headline said.
The article in the New York Times was about the 11 months Voyager 2 will not be able to send messages back to earth, but the headline had a completely different context a few days after it ran on March 4. Reading it now, it might seem as if the Earth won't be able to answer, not because the antennae dish in Australia where its transmissions are received is offline for repairs, but because of the complete societal collapse caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
My reaction after reading the story was a sureness that this would be the last Voyager 2 would ever hear from us. Let's hope in eleven months, I'm not right for either reason.
The record can be a solace.
My car is old, so the version of the record that I put on as I drove to the supermarket was on CD. The frantic shopping was already in full swing just minutes after opening. The news said tight new restrictions were on the way, and no one was sure what they would be. Some official mentioned closing down all supermarkets and issuing MREs (a statement was later issued to clarify that that was only a long-term, worst-case scenario).
Listening to Voyager felt to me like the best way to connect with the people around me, more than a reminder of how isolated we all are from each other. I want to share something else the way that I was able to share the record that morning to the few people left on the streets.
In 2017 I created a short chapbook of new and rejected material from The Voyager Record: A Transmission that was called Voyager, Too. I'm making the print layout version of Voyager, Too available to everyone who needs something to read or bring them solace in this time of isolation.
If I don't ruin the idea of a relic of humanity that will outlive humanity, the earth, and the sun itself for you, at least I will give you an arts and craft project that will occupy you for a few minutes.
I recommend printing the cover on a yellow paper, but there is a color version of it in the folder that you can print out if you want to use up a lot of ink. For best binding results use a needle and thread or a long stapler.
Music from home, far away.
I'm not alone is turning to the record as a way to cope with these difficult times, and trying to bridge a gap between the fear and the comfort we can take in our shared humanity. In a Facebook post, hybrid editor at Fence Jason Zuzga shared that the nursing home where his grandmother lives just reported new cases of COVID-19. Jason writes here about playing the Voyager record and traditional Italian music for her, one of the few things that can still reach her, as the dementia that affects her brain has left the part that understand music intact.
Seeing the big picture.
I can't think of another series that provides a scope of the universe as vast and broaching on complete as the original Cosmos. The first sequel, starring Neil deGrasse Tyson, was alright, but generally less affecting than Carl Sagan's version. This month second Cosmos sequel focused on exploring hypothetical alien worlds premiered.
Maybe now is a good time to consider these possibilities, as we question the way that our own world works on its most fundamental levels. Also, who can complain about exploring the cosmos when you probably can't leave your house.
Read this interview with Ann Druyan, Voyager record collaborator and Cosmos' creator, as she discusses the show and optimistic outcomes for humanity. If you'd rather hate on NdGT, here is a piece on Vice that makes fun of his annoying Twitter persona. If you'd rather hate on Vice, you can always not click on it.
Read a deep cut review of The Vinyl Frontier, a history of the Voyager record by Jonathan Scott.