“'Whenever I'm down,' says Druyan, 'I'm thinking: And still they move, 35,000 miles an hour, leaving our solar system for the great open sea of interstellar space.'”
February 14th, whether you wait patiently for this day all year watching romcoms and clutching a box of tissues in your lap or you consider it a canned and sappy Hallmark holiday and wish it would just go away, Valentine’s Day is here. In honor of the event we wanted to share one of our favorite romances: Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan.
In 1977 famed astronomer Carl Sagan was working on a then unknown NASA project. For their Voyager Interstellar Mission, NASA launched two spacecrafts into the cosmos and on each craft was a golden record packed with recordings that included, among other things, the sound of a kiss, a mother’s first words to her newborn infant, music from around the world, and greetings in 59 different languages. This was not the main mission of the project, however, it was designed to take close-up pictures of Jupiter and Saturn and then transmit them back to Earth. After their main mission was accomplished, the vessels would continue on into the great expanse of space, beyond our solar system. The records on board were meant to survive for a billion years, in the hope that one day, against enormous odds, they might cross paths with an alien civilization smart enough to decipher them – giving them an idea of what it was like to be human, and to live on Earth.
One member of Carl Sagan’s small team poised to collect data for the records, was a young and unknown science author, Ann Druyan, and it was during the project that the two fell in love. After searching endlessly for the perfect piece of music to include on a record meant to represent all of humanity, Druyan had finally found a 2,500-year-old song called “Flowing Streams”. She called Sagan with the news of her decision, and when he didn’t answer, she left a message at his hotel. At that point, Druyan and Sagan had been professional acquaintances and friends, but nothing more. But an hour later, when Sagan called back, something happened. By the end of that phone call, Druyan and Sagan were engaged to be married.
“We both hung up the phone, and I just screamed out loud,” says Druyan, “It was this great eureka moment. It was like a scientific discovery”….high praise coming from these two. The first of the Voyager project’s two spacecrafts launched on August 20, 1977 and Druyan and Sagan announced their engagement two days later. They married in 1981, and were together until Sagan’s death in December of 1996. Together they co-authored numerous books and had two children, but thanks to the Voyager, the evidence of their love for each other took on an even more enduring quality.
Not long after that serendipitous phone call, Druyan had an idea for the record: they could measure the electrical impulses of a human brain and nervous system, turn it into sound, and put it on the record. Then maybe, thousands of millions of years from now, some alien civilization might be able to turn that data back into thoughts. So, just a few days after she and Sagan declared their love for each other, Druyan went to Bellevue Hospital in New York City and meditated while the activity of her brain and body were recorded via an EEG. According to Druyan, part of what she was thinking during that meditation was about Carl Sagan, offering to whomever might stumble across the golden records in the great expanse of space, a glimpse of a human body newly in love.
So just think about that, right now those biometric signals of love are frozen in the deep cold of space, hurtling toward the multitudes of suns in far away galaxies that possibly teem with civilizations. Perhaps someday an alien civilization will stumble upon Voyager, and decode the signals on the record in order to understand who sent them. If they’re successful, Ann Druyan’s enduring love for Carl Sagan could be the most important relic of a then long extinct species.