Third Man records celebrated their seventh anniversary this July by launching a turntable into space, playing a vinyl record of Carl Sagan’s voice set to music.
The space-proof turntable was carried via balloon to reach a peak altitude of 18 miles high, and, before the balloon burst, played out “A Glorious Dawn.” The song is a remixed version of quotes from Carl Sagan’s esteemed Cosmos television series.
The gold-plated master record was played by the Icarus Craft for 81 minutes, until the aptly titled balloon vessel came falling back to earth. Kevin Carrico engineered and designed the craft to ensure the record would remain stable amidst the turbulence, and also to keep the temperature within a working range for the record itself.
“Vinyl has a rather low melting point (160F / 77C) and, without air to keep things cool, you could wind up with a lump of melted plastic… so our turntable platter also served as a heat-sink in order to keep the vinyl cool in direct sunlight.”
Carrico has plenty to be proud of: the turntable was still spinning when it landed.
Channeling Carl Sagan, Jack White saw the launch as a chance to bring human creativity and scientific curiosity together. “Our main goal from inception to completion of this project was to inject imagination and inspiration into the daily discourse of music and vinyl lovers,” said White. “Combining our creative impulses with those of discovery and science is our passion, and even on the scale that we are working with here, it was exhilarating to decide to do something that hasn’t been done before and to work towards its completion.”
However exciting the working turntable launch into space was, the Icarus Craft is not the first record in space. That honour belongs to the golden records sent along with the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. Constructed as an attempt to share the sights and sounds of human civilization with extraterrestrial life, the gold and bronze-plated aluminum disks were attached to the outside of the probes. The records contain Bach, Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, and Chuck Berry — but unfortunately, no Beatles music, as Carl Sagan’s suggestion of “Here Comes the Sun” never came to fruition. The Voyager 1 probe is now out of the inner solar system and, Beethoven and Chuck Berry will eventually reach the Oort Cloud of the outer solar system (in 300 years), with the Voyager 2 probe to follow suit.
The Icarus Craft is not even the first music played in space. That record falls to the astronauts aboard the Gemini 6, who performed “Jingle Bells” with the aid of a harmonica and a set of bells — both of which are now in the Smithsonian — back in 1965. They used the instruments to declare a sighting of Santa Claus, much to the anxious energy of unaware team members back in Houston. Currently, visitors to the ISS listen to music to relax — NASA has authorized the use of iPods, however the lithium battery has to be replaced with an alkaline alternative. And other astronauts play instruments to unwind: Chris Hadfield famously performed live from the ISS, and has in fact put out an album of this space-bred material.
What’s next for music in space? Private groups such as Space X and Virgin Galactic going into orbit more regularly lends itself to the idea of live-streaming concerts broadcast back to the surface. The lengthy voyage to Mars will likely be filled with music for entertainment-starved pioneers, as well as the down-time of the first settlers on the surface of the red planet. The Mars Rover has already broadcast “Happy Birthday” on the red planet, but maybe the dulcet tones of Carl Sagan will be heard there as well.
You can visit the Third Man Records website to watch the entire flight of Icarus.