When Chuck Berry sang "Go, go Johnny go!" in 1958, could he have ever imagined how far his rock and roll hit would really go? "Johnny B. Goode" is now some 13 billion miles from Earth, traveling at 38,000 mph aboard NASA's Voyager 1 space probe. The guitar anthem shares space on a Golden Record alongside Mozart and Louis Armstrong, part of a cultural snapshot intended for any extraterrestrials who might someday find the spacecraft. Anderson Cooper reports on the Voyager space probes as they continue beaming back data 40 years after their launch. The story will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, Nov. 19 7:30 p.m., ET/7:00 p.m. PT.
Why send "Johnny B. Goode" into space? Ann Druyan, the creative director of the team astronomer Carl Sagan assembled to make the Golden Record in the 1970s, tells Cooper the music embodied the mission. "To me, 'Johnny B. Goode,' rock and roll, was the music of motion, of moving, getting to someplace you've never been before and the odds are against you," says Druyan. "But you want to go. That was Voyager."
"We have actually sent a message that will be in orbit in the Milky Way galaxy essentially forever, even after the sun and the Earth no longer exist in their current state."
The Voyagers were launched 40 years ago, and they're still going. No man-made objects have ever traveled so long and so far while continuing to function. The twin crafts were launched separately in 1977. Their mission was only supposed to last four years. The images the Voyagers captured of Jupiter in 1979 were the sharpest scientists had ever seen. The probes continued on, collecting data and images from the farthest planets in our solar system -- Saturn, Uranus and Neptune -- and their distinctive moons. The data gave scientists a new perspective on the workings and diversity of far-away worlds they had only seen through telescopes. The Voyagers are still beaming scientific data back to Earth.
Compared to today's technology, Voyagers 1 and 2 are low-tech, says chief project scientist Ed Stone, who is 81 and still on the job. "Your smartphone has 240,000 times more memory than the Voyager spacecraft," he tells Cooper. "And it is 100,000 times faster than the Voyager computers." Nevertheless, the probes will outlast all of us and the planet Earth as we know it, Stone says. Even after the Voyagers' nuclear power runs out in about 10 years, they will keep moving through the vacuum-like conditions of outer space with Chuck Berry's hit onboard. Rock and roll may never die.
"Think of that. We have actually sent a message that will be in orbit in the Milky Way galaxy essentially forever, even after the sun and the Earth no longer exist in their current state," says Stone.