A record label is about to start shipping vinyl copies of NASA’s famous golden records

voyager golden record nasa jpl A NASA technician prepares a golden record for installation on the Voyager 1 spacecraft. NASA/JPL-Caltech

  • NASA launched a gold-plated record full of audio and images aboard its Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes in 1977.
  • The space agency never released vinyl copies to the public.
  • Forty years later, however, a record label found the master tape, obtained copyright permissions, and produced a three-vinyl-LP of the original audio.
  • The box set is set to begin shipping in mid-February.

After years of effort, a group of music aficionados is finally bringing the full auditory experience of NASA’s famous Voyager golden records to turntables all over the world.

NASA debuted its golden records — an album of messages, images, and audio meant as a record of Earth for aliens — before the nuclear-powered Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes launched in 1977.

Though they weren’t the first golden rockets sent to deep space, the records are considered the most ambitious time capsules of their kind.

“The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said about the project on its website. “Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim.”

But in more than 40 years, NASA has never released the full audio mix of its golden records to the public on vinyl. That feat has finally been pulled off by a label called Ozma Records, thanks to a Kickstarter project.

The company already shipped backers some 10,000 early copies, but the $98, three-vinyl-LP box set is now available for sale to the wider public. According to Ozma Records’ sales page, the remastered golden records will begin shipping in mid-February.

How to copy NASA’s golden record

voyager golden record vinyl lp box set art ozma records The cover of Ozma Records’ “Voyager Golden Record 3xLP Box Set.” Ozma Records

The Voyager probes were launched to “tour” the solar system, and flew by Jupiter, Saturn, and those planets’ moons. They remain the first and only robots to take close-up photographs of Uranus and Neptune, their moons and rings, and other deep-space objects.

NASA knew the probes — moving at speeds in excess of 35,000 miles per hour — would leave the grasp of the solar system and fly between stars, doomed to drift forever among the Milky Way galaxy. So on the off-chance that intelligent aliens might find a Voyager probe someday, NASA affixed each one with a golden record.

The discs were sent into deep space with illustrated instructions about how to play them (like the reproduction above). Because of their purpose, concerns about using copyrighted material were relaxed.

That set up big hurdles for reissuing the golden record on Earth, though. NASA has published un-copyrighted audio selections on the web in recent years, but only listed the names of copyrighted clips. NASA also didn’t hold onto the original tapes; it handed them over to CBS Records, according to The Atlantic.

Ozma Records’ effort to find, copy, and release as much of the original audio mix as possible on vinyl began in 2016. David Pescovitz, a science and technology journalist, launched the project with Timothy Daly, a music industry veteran who co-founded a new label called Ozma Records. Lawrence Azerrad, a graphic designer, also helped spearhead the campaign.

The goal of the group’s Kickstarter project was to raise $200,000, but it ultimately netted $1.3 million from backers.

voyager golden record vinyl lp cover art ozma records Each box set comes with three gold-colored, translucent vinyl LPs. Ozma Records

It took the group more than a year to track down the audio’s makers, get permission to use the tracks, set up royalty accounts for copyright holders that they couldn’t find, unearth the master tapes, and make a copy.

Timothy Ferris, one of the original members of NASA’s Voyager golden record team, wrote liner notes for the remastered version.

“Pescovitz and Daly took the trouble to contact artists who were represented on the record and send them what amounted to letters of authenticity — something we never had time to accomplish with the original project,” Ferris wrote in that text, which was reproduced in an essay for The New Yorker.

In a product description in the Light in the Attic catalog, Ozma Records wrote:

“As an objet d’art and design, it represents deep insights about communication, context, and the power of media. In the realm of science, it raises fundamental questions about who we are and our place in the universe. At the intersection of those three perspectives, the Voyager record is a testament to the potential of science and art to ignite humanity’s sense of curiosity and wonder.”

You can hear a sample of the vinyl record below:

Where are the Voyagers now?

Voyager 1 is about 13.16 billion miles from Earth, while the slightly slower-moving Voyager 2 is some 10.91 billion miles away.

voyager leaving solar system illustration nasa jpl An illustration of a Voyager probe leaving the solar system. NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)

Their 12-inch records aren’t actually made of solid gold: They’re copper with a generous coating of gold to extend their lifespan against the incessant pounding of cosmic rays.

Current estimates suggest the records will maintain their data fidelity for about 1 billion years — long after humanity either has to leave Earth or disappear altogether.

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