In 1978, as NASA prepared to launch the Voyager deep space probes, beloved astronomer Carl Sagan was busy helped the agency decide how to share a little bit of life on Earth with any aliens the vessels might encounter. He settled on an array of images, sounds and wave recordings that depicted earth artifacts and ideas both mundane and extraordinary. They were recorded onto a pair of golden discs, with one aboard each probe.
This week, in honor of Voyager’s 40-year anniversary, WeTransfer and Stink Studios launched "A Message From Earth," a site serving as a contemporary answer to Sagan’s project. With newly-commissioned contributions from 40 artists, musicians and scientists hailing from over 20 countries, the collection is a knowingly incomplete but thoughtfully considered sample of what humankind has to offer in 2017.
"WeTransfer wanted to celebrate what it means to be human and have an optimistic spirit, and they were looking for a partner to bring everything together" said Yego Moravia, a CD at Stink. "Our challenge was to build a modular site that will accommodate any [type of media] and really communicate that message."
Stink landed the campaign after pitching for a week and quickly got to work writing briefs to guide each of the contributors–40 in total, a significant workload. It was a new way of approaching a campaign, said Nick Fearnley, the project’s creative lead. "Stink was managing creative production and then bringing it all together, taking a step back as the facilitator of the creative, rather than the artist."
What came in from collaborators covers an array as wide as the original golden records. Those opened with greetings in 55 different languages; the site’s greeting is from blind astonomer Wanda Díaz Merced, who studies the sound waves of stars. Sagan’s team put in classical and pop music as well as indigenous traditions; Stink managed mixes from DJs around the world that incorporated sounds from each curator’s home country. The original records had brainwaves recorded by a young woman thinking about being in love; A Message from Earth’s brainwaves are essays, images and songs from a dozen creators across multiple genres.
"We spent a lot of time figuring out how to make it a celebration instead of a recreation," Fearnley said. "We needed to capture all the special nuances and figure out what the picture looks like when the puzzle is all put together."
Balancing the parts with the whole was another challenge for the Stink team–Fearnley and Moravia likened the site to an art gallery or a museum, which shows individual pieces but still has an overarching point of view. Fearnley drew on his background in magazine art direction to pull it off, but also drew heavy inspiration from the original mission of the NASA project. "There’s a sense of wonder, hopefulness, and whimsy in making an homage to Carl Sagan," he said.
Voyager’s golden records are now farther away from Earth than any human-made object, and while "A Message from Earth" is distinctly planet-bound, it still has a mission beyond offering a constellation of human appreciation and artistry. In a time of growing uncertainty and fear, the site is working to raise awareness and funds for the sorts of projects that are spiritual successors to the golden records: SETI, an umbrella term for organizations that search for extraterrestrial intelligence; the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, which searches for habitable planets outside our solar system; and Astronomers Without Borders, which brings astronomy and scientific goodwill to developing countries.
"The purpose beyond the homage is really meaningful," said Fearnley. "It’s about hopeful optimism. We want to re-illuminate wonderment in the cosmos as part of being human."