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This archival photo shows an engineer working on the construction of a large, dish-shaped Voyager high-gain antenna. Photo taken on July 9, 1976. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The farthest record of Earth and humanity is approximately 13 billion miles from our planet, traveling out of the solar system on its way toward the unknown, perhaps intelligent life.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched 40 years ago Tuesday, carrying with it a “Golden Record” of what Earth has produced – from the raucous 2:38 recording of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and Azerbaijani bagpipes recorded by Radio Moscow in the 1970s, to images of human cities and people, to greetings to the rest of the universe recorded in 55 different languages.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum held a celebration of the 40th anniversary Tuesday morning. (Voyager 2 had been launched a few weeks prior, on Aug. 20, 1977).

“We offer friendship across the stars,” said William Shatner, the actor who portrayed Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek,” who was selected to send the commemorative “message to Voyager” out into space on behalf of humanity.

“You are not alone,” Shatner added.

NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft, encapsulated within its payload fairing, is seen on August 5, 1977. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC

The twin spacecraft were originally aimed to explore Jupiter and Saturn, with their 8-track recording devices and each with a copy of the Golden Record.

But they are currently far beyond those objectives, probing far out along the frontier where our solar system meets interstellar space.

Scientists who helped launch the mission have reportedly said that the long-lived missions have surprised even them.

Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune, and was the first to send back pictures of the rings of those two planets, as well as Jupiter.

The two spacecraft discovered active volcanoes on Io, multiple moons at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, and also lightning on Jupiter.

They two crafts continue to send back information daily. They are currently measuring cosmic rays and galactic magnetic fields in interstellar space, as well as solar wind termination shock

“This was our chance to create a kind of Noah’s Ark of human culture,” said Ann Druyan, the science writer and widow of Carl Sagan, the astronomer who was a major force in the launch of the Voyager mission. “We could confer a kind of immortality on these works of music, on these images. It was a weight to it.”

Saturn C-ring and B-ring with many ringlets. False-color image, taken Aug. 23, 1981. Photo: NASA
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