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Chuck Berry Immortalized On Voyager Space Mission


Chuck Berry, who's often thought of as the father of rock and roll, passed from this world on Saturday at 90 years old, but thanks to NASA, his music lives on in space. Let's explain. In 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft - Voyager 1 and 2 - to explore Jupiter, Saturn and beyond. Each carried a 12-inch gold plated record that contained music, sounds and images picked to represent the great diversity of life on Earth. The idea was maybe one day extraterrestrial life far away would stumble on the records and learn something from us.


Astronomer Carl Sagan oversaw the collection, which included greetings in 55 languages, the sound of a mother kissing a child, Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and Chuck Berry's hit from 1958, "Johnny B. Goode."


CHUCK BERRY: (Singing) Oh, the engineers would see him sitting in the shade, strumming with the rhythm that the drivers made. The people passing by - they would stop say, oh, my, but that little country boy could play. Go, go. Go, Johnny. Go, go.

CORNISH: Timothy Ferris produced the album, and he remembers Sagan weighing in on the inclusion of the song.

TIMOTHY FERRIS: One member of the music selection committee sniffed that Chuck Berry's music was adolescent, but Carl Sagan reminded him that there are a lot of adolescents on Earth, too.

MCEVERS: Chuck Berry's remembered as a great performer, but Ferris points out he was also a terrific songwriter. And that's part of why his work was chosen for the golden record.

FERRIS: Not that we would expect the lyrics to make a great deal of difference to an alien civilization a billion years from now, but it's just a wonderful piece of narrative songwriting about how talent and hard work can change your life.

MCEVERS: Cultural critic Chuck Klosterman wrote about the selection of "Johnny B. Goode" in a book about how we will remember the present when it becomes the past.

CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: If rock music eventually becomes sort of this lost, dead art form that doesn't really have any role in the world at large and that people in 300 or 400 or 500 years are looking back and saying - who basically defined what this was? - Chuck Berry probably is the best candidate.


BERRY: (Singing) Go, go. Go, Johnny. Go, go.

CORNISH: As for the Voyager mission, the spacecraft are now more than 10 billion miles from Earth, beyond the reaches of our solar system. They're still sending back data. As far as anyone knows, the records are still intact, but no alien life has found them yet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.