Radiolab: Carl Sagan And Ann Druyan's Ultimate Mix Tape Of The Human Experience Floating through space right now is a golden record carrying sounds of Earth: a mother's first words to her baby, the sound of a kiss, and music from all over the world. Ann Druyan helped to create the NASA project as a guide to Earth for aliens. And like any good mix tape — interstellar or not — it led to the man of her dreams.
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Carl Sagan And Ann Druyan's Ultimate Mix Tape

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Carl Sagan And Ann Druyan's Ultimate Mix Tape

Carl Sagan And Ann Druyan's Ultimate Mix Tape

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With Valentines Day this Sunday - and dont say we didnt warn you - we decided to tell a little love story today. And this love story is a truly cosmic tale, coming to us from our friends at Radiolab.

(Soundbite of music)

JAD ABUMRAD: Hey, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Hey, thats Jad Abumrad from WNYC.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And this is Robert Krulwich.

MONTAGNE: So before we get started, a quick reminder - Radiolab.

ABUMRAD: Radiolab is - to remind you - a show where we get kind of curious, explore ideas; we argue a little bit sometimes.

KRULWICH: Right, and sometimes we just like to tell a good story. And Renee, the story we want to tell you today starts with Carl Sagan - you know, the astrophysicist, the science guy?

ABUMRAD: He was on Johnny Carson over and over and over.

KRULWICH: Yeah, that guy. Well, in 1977, NASA asked him to make what was essentially a mix tape of the human experience. You know, put all kinds of different languages, music, all kinds of stuff on this gold record, put the record in the spaceship, shoot it out into space.

MONTAGNE: Youre right. This was the Voyager Interstellar Message Project, and the thought being - what, millions of years from now, some aliens might run across the spaceship and find this record?

KRULWICH: Somehow learn how to play it and in the process, learn about us.

MONTAGNE: Oh, I thought this was supposed to be a Valentines story. So far, Im not hearing the love story.

ABUMRAD: Well, its a Valentines Day story in a roundabout sort of way, 'cause the creative director of that project was a woman named Annie Druyan, who Carl Sagan would later marry. And I visited Annie at her home one day, and we sat in the backyard near a waterfall, and she told me about the romantic vision behind the project.

Ms. ANN DRUYAN (Creative Director, Voyager Interstellar Message Project): It was a chance to tell something of what life on Earth was like to beings of, perhaps, a thousand-million years from now. If that didnt raise goose bumps, then youd have to be made of wood.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DRUYAN: It was also the season that Carl Sagan and I fell so madly in love with each other. And here we were, taking on this mythic challenge and knowing that before it was done, two spacecraft would lift off from the planet Earth, moving at an average speed of 35,000 miles an hour for the next thousand-million years. And on it would be a kiss

(Soundbite of kiss)

Ms. DRUYAN: A mothers first words to her newborn baby.

(Soundbite of crying baby)

Unidentified Woman: Oh come on now.

Ms. DRUYAN: Mozart.

(Soundbite of music by Mozart)

Ms. DRUYAN: Bach. Beethoven.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DRUYAN: Greetings in the 59 most populous human languages.

Unidentified Woman: Bonjour.

Unidentified Man: Shalom.

(Soundbite of foreign languages)

Unidentified Child: Hello from the children of planet Earth.

Ms. DRUYAN: As well as one non-human language, the greetings of the humpback whales.

(Soundbite of humpback whale)

Ms. DRUYAN: And it was a sacred undertaking because it was saying, we want to be citizens of the cosmos. We want you to know about us.

(Soundbite of music)

ABUMRAD: Tell me about the moment you fell in love with Carl Sagan. You said it was during the Voyager compilation.

Ms. DRUYAN: It was on June 1st, 1977. I had been looking for some time for that piece of Chinese music that we could put on the Voyager record and not feel like idiots. And I was very excited because Id finally found a -ethnomusicologist composer at Columbia University who told me, without a moments hesitation, that this piece, Flowing Streams, which was one of the oldest pieces of Chinese music - 2,500 years old - was the piece we should put on the record.

So I called Carl, who was traveling. And we had been alone many times during the making of the record, and as friends for three years. And we'd had these wonderful, soaring conversations, but we had been both been completely - just professional about everything and as friends. And he wasnt there. Left a message. Hour later, the phone rings, pick up the phone, and I hear this wonderful voice. And he said, I get back to my hotel room and I find this message, and it says Annie called. And I say to myself - why didnt you leave me this message 10 years ago?

And my heart completely skipped a beat. I can still remember it so perfectly. And I said, for keeps? And he said, you mean get married? And I said, yes. And we had never kissed. Wed never, you know, even had any kind of personal discussions before. We both hung up the phone, and I just screamed out loud. I remember it so well because it was this great, eureka moment. And then the phone rang and I was thinking oh, you know, I - and the phone rang, and it was Carl, and hes like, just want to make sure that really happened. Were getting married, right?

And I said, yeah, were getting married. He said OK, just wanted to make sure. And spacecraft lifted off on August 20th, and August 22nd we told everyone involved. And we were together from that moment until his death in 1996, in December.

ABUMRAD: Wow. Talk about romantic, my God.

Ms. DRUYAN: It was so romantic, and I had asked Carl whether or not it would be possible to compress the impulses in ones brain and nervous system into sound, and then put that sound on the record, and then think that perhaps the extraterrestrials of the future would be able to reconstitute that data into thought.

And he looked at me in - a beautiful May day in New York City, and said well, you know, why dont you go do it and - because who knows, you know, who knows whats possible in a thousand-million years? And so my brain waves and REM, every little sound that my body was making, was recorded at Bellevue Hospital in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DRUYAN: This was two days after Carl and I declared our love for each other, and so part of what I was feeling in me - recording of my brain waves.

Ms. DRUYAN: Part of what I was thinking in this meditation was about the wonder of love, and of being in love. And to know its on those two spacecraft. Even now, whenever Im down, you know, Im thinking - and still they move, 35,000 miles an hour, leaving our solar system for the great, wide-open sea of interstellar space.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Gosh, that is so romantic. I mean

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: ...your brain and body in love, hurtling through the cosmos for the next billion years.


MONTAGNE: Well, Robert, Jad...


MONTAGNE: Thank you for sharing that one with us.

KRULWICH: Youre welcome.

ABUMRAD: Absolutely. Thanks for having us.

MONTAGNE: And thats Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, sending us a Valentine from the show Radiolab, a production of WNYC.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

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