The Last Laugh
Forty years after Carl Sagan’s ‘Golden Records’ began their long voyage into the depths of outer space, Eyal Gever—an Israeli high-tech-wunderkind-turned-conceptual-artist—received an unusual call: NASA asked him to create the first artwork to be printed in space. What, he now had to decide, truly captured the essence of humanity?
In 1977, NASA launched two probes—Voyager I and II—into outer space. And upon them, famously, were two gold-plated records containing a time capsule of sorts, a message meant to introduce Earth, and humans, to any extraterrestrial civilization that might—some day—find them.
A group led by Carl Sagan debated for almost a year what should go on the records. They ended up including images, anatomical drawings, astronomical maps, mathematical definitions, technical diagrams, pictures, and also—of course—a lot of sound. There were songs of humpback whales, crickets and frogs, brainwaves, a musical mixtape ranging from Mozart to Chuck Berry, and spoken greetings in 59 different human languages.
President Jimmy Carter added a message of his own, in which he wrote, “This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.” That message, and those records, left our solar system more than 15 years ago, and are now billions of miles away—the most distant man-made objects in space.
Nearly 40 years after Sagan and his team tossed their “bottle into the cosmic ocean,” 45-year-old Eyal Gever was sitting in his Tel Aviv studio. That’s when the phone rang, and the voice on the other end of the line gave him the commission of a lifetime: NASA asked him to design the very first piece of art to ever be created in space. Gever was stunned. Much like Sagan, he had to distill the essence of humanity, the essence of our planet, and then condense it into a 10-by-10-centimeter printable plastic statue.
On the other side of the world, in Washington State, 26-year-old Naughtia Stanko was lying depressed in bed. Soon Gever’s and Stanko’s fates would forever be intertwined, as they combined to leave their mark on our galaxy.
Producer Yoshi Fields brings us a tale of laughter and crying, of permanence and impermanence and—above all—of humanity.
Joel Shupack scored and sound-designed the episode, with original music and additional music by Blue Dot Sessions and Nehora & Hadas. Sela Waisblum created the mix. Yochai Maital and Mishy Harman edited the piece. Thanks to Yoav Orot, Maya Kosover and Dani Levi. The music and lyrics of the end song—“Leil Emesh” (“Last Night”)—are by Naomi Shemer. The song used in the episode is a cover version by Nehora Kakone and Hadas Fraenkel.
Listen to the episode here, or download it from Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify. You can hear all of Israel Story’s episodes in English here and in Hebrew here.
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