What the Voyager space probes can teach humanity about immortality and legacy as they sail through space for trillions of years

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) Voyager 1 is the farthest human-made object from Earth. After sweeping by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, it is now almost 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth in interstellar space. Both Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, carry little pieces of humanity in the form of their Golden Records. These messages in a bottle include spoken greetings in 55 languages, sounds and images from nature, an album of recordings and images from numerous cultures, and a written message of welcome from Jimmy Carter, who was US president when the spacecraft left Earth in 1977.

The Golden Records were built to last a billion years in the environment of space, but in a recent analysis of the paths and perils these explorers may face, astronomers calculated that they could exist for trillions of years without coming remotely close to any stars.


Having spent my career in the field of religion and science, I’ve thought a lot about how spiritual ideas intersect with technological achievements. The incredible longevity of the Voyager spacecraft presents a uniquely tangible entry point into exploring ideas of immortality.

For many people, immortality is the everlasting existence of a soul or spirit that follows death. It can also mean the continuation of one’s legacy in memory and records. With its Golden Record, each Voyager provides such a legacy, but only if it is discovered and appreciated by an alien civilization in the distant future.

Life after death

Religious beliefs about immortality are numerous and diverse. Most religions forese a postmortem career for a personal soul or spirit, and these range from everlasting residence among the stars to reincarnation.

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