Make a Golden Record

For anyone who is even slightly interested in space, the possibility of intelligent life outside of Earth, and creative problem solving, Carl Sagan's Golden Record is one of the coolest science projects around. Carl Sagan was tasked with making a vinyl record that would be affixed to the Voyager I and II spacecrafts, both designed to eventually leave our Solar System. This vinyl record would tell the story of where those spacecraft came from to anything that might find them. What story did he tell?

What students will learn

  1. About Carl Sagan's Golden Record project for Voyager I and II.
  2. Understanding the intended audience for a creative work.
  3. Problem solving to overcome communication barriers.
  4. Triage of content when working with a constrained medium.
 

Lesson topics

Carl Sagan's Golden Record

We found that using Carl Sagan's Golden Record is a great way to synthesize the ideas of human universals and editing on behalf of a foreign audience. Students should first get a brief introduction to what the Golden Record is. We have included resources below, including a video narrated by Sagan and a SoundCloud playlist of all the audio that was included on the record. There are plenty of other great resources online about the Golden Record.

Some thought provoking questions about creating the Golden Record:

  • How did Sagan ensure the record could be used if Voyager ran out of power or was bombarded by enormous amounts of radiation?
  • What if the record's finders couldn't see light like us? Or couldn't hear?
  • How would they know how to use the record?
  • What is a commonly known variable that could be used as a constant? In other words, how could Sagan define units of time for playing the record? (He used the Hydrogen atom, the most common element in the universe).
  • Given the unknown eventual path of Voyager, how could he describe where it came from?
  • And finally, what should he put on it?

The final activity should be to make a version of a Golden Record. This could take many forms:

  • Collage: students cut out from magazines things they believe every human on Earth would understand and relate to.
  • Paper: each student gets one 8.5 x 11" sheet of paper to use however they want to communicate their message.
  • Video: agree to a time limit (less than 5min will allow easier broadcast over Outernet later on) and compile clips or record messages and activities.

Before beginning, be sure to define the intended audience. Is this for aliens, like Carl Sagan's, is it a time capsule for the students themselves in 10 years, or is it for students in another country? This collage can be included in the Project Empathy kit that ultimately gets shared with your classroom's partner school, so if you choose to make that your intended audience, encourage students to not just explore general universals, but universals that would help students around the world get to know them better.

Resources:

SoundCloud collection of Golden Record: https://soundcloud.com/nasa/sets/golden-record-sounds-of
 

 

 

Feedback

If you have additional materials that you think would add to this curriculum, please write to me, thane@projectempathy.co. This is a collaborative project and we hope that, through more participation, we can make it even better.