In 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft (Voyager 1 and Voyager 2) on a mission to explore the planets Jupiter and Saturn and their moons. In short time, scientists realized that the Voyager mission would extend beyond these two giants to explore Uranus and Neptune as well. And they would keep going into what’s called “interstellar” space, or the vast expanse beyond our solar system and the gravitational pull of our sun.
In fact, this transition to interstellar travel occurred in 2012, making both spacecraft the farthest man-made objects traveling in outer space. Yet they aren’t exactly alone; Ansel Adams is with them.
Well, sort of.
In preparation for the Voyager mission, NASA scientists wanted data on board each spacecraft that offered insight into their creators, a record that described the human race found on Earth. They turned to the famous astronomer and science promoter Carl Sagan, of Cornell University, who assembled a team to create the small database they called “The Golden Record.”
The goal of the Golden Record was to equip the Voyager spacecraft with representative examples of human life and culture, which included both images and sounds. Of the 115 images selected for the mission, two of Ansel Adams’ photographs, The Tetons and Snake River (1942) and Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach (1953), made the cut. One of these photographs, The Tetons and Snake River (1942), will be on view in Ansel Adams in Our Time at Crystal Bridges, beginning September 19.
NASA produced two identical Golden Records, one for each spacecraft, both of which are now traveling in separate directions from our solar system. According to the NASA website, “On August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 flew beyond the heliopause and entered interstellar space, making it the first human-made object to explore this new territory. At the time, it was at a distance of about 122 AU, or about 11 billion miles from the sun. This kind of interstellar exploration is the ultimate goal of the Voyager Interstellar Mission. Voyager 2, which is traveling in a different direction from Voyager 1, crossed the heliopause into interstellar space on November 5, 2018.”
The truth is, the Voyager spacecraft will continue it’s star trek into the unforeseeable future, passing the next distant star in about 40,000 years – long after any of us will cease to exist. Yet out there, in the vastness of space and time, the contents of the Golden Record will endure.
And Ansel Adams’ photographs of the United States will still be there, along for the ride.
To learn more about the Voyager mission, track where the spacecraft are today, and to learn more about the contents of the Golden Record,
Visit NASA’s Voyager website here.
Listen to the Golden Record soundtrack here.
Written by Stace Treat, head of interpretation, Crystal Bridges.
Exhibition organized by