Retelling Myths: The Voyage for the Pale Blue Dot
Out in space, a small ship looks for a lost planet...
Wow, I’m so glad that I was able to finish this in time!
The Voyage for the Pale Blue Dot
In the vastness of space, a small spaceship drifts through the darkness...
I held up my access card.
The reader scanned my card, and the door to the cockpit opened.
As I entered, I could hear a familiar song playing.
"Still listening to that Record?" I asked the pilot.
They got up and began to lower the volume.
"Of course," they said, "Did you get all the data?"
I floated over to my seat, "Yep."
"Any luck?" they asked.
I shook my head, "Nope, we're still nowhere near Earth - or even the Milky Way."
"But," I said, "I've recorded all the data at these coordinates, and they'll double- and triple-check it all when we get back to the homeship, as usual."
"Maybe the others will find something that I might have missed," I said, as I took my seat.
My companion nodded.
The next song on the Record began playing, and a trumpet-led piece started to fill the cockpit - yet another familiar song, though I couldn't remember the name of it.
"Which song is this?" I asked.
"It's Melancholy Blues," they replied, "performed by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven."
"One of the only pieces of Louis Armstrong's work that we still have left," they continued, "And what a shame too - he was a great and influential jazz musician, from what we know."
I cracked a smile, and joked, "Of all the pilots that we have, how did I get stuck with an Earth enthusiast like you?"
My companion gave me a wink, "Count yourself lucky."
The two of us shared a laugh.
"So," they said, "now that you're all done, do you want to start heading back to the homeship right away, or do you want to take a break first? We are ahead of schedule by a little bit."
I gently pushed myself upwards and floated out of my seat, "A break would be nice."
"Okay," my companion nodded, as they relaxed into their seat.
As I floated around in the cockpit, I found myself drifting towards the poster that my companion had put up on the wall behind them.
I righted myself and stared.
Even though I had seen this photo many times before, I still had to take a moment before I could find that Pale Blue Dot.
That tiny Pale Blue Dot in the vast emptiness of space - the Earth that we were searching for.
"You think we'll ever find it?" I asked.
My companion turned to see what I was talking about.
After a moment, they answered, "I hope so."
"It's been so long," I said, "since we - humanity, I mean - lost the Earth."
"So much time has passed," I said, "since we found ourselves lost in space."
"Yeah," my companion said, "It has."
Another song began to play - this time, strings began to fill the cockpit with a slow and haunting melody.
"This is...?" I asked.
"String Quartet No. 13," they replied, "the fifth movement, Cavatina."
"Beethoven, right?" I asked.
They smiled, "You got it."
And then they turned their head back to relax in their seat.
Another moment passed, before I pulled myself away from the poster, and drifted back towards my seat.
As I sat down, I said, "Could you tell me the story?"
"The story?" they asked.
"Yeah, you know," I said, "the one about the Voyagers..."
"About the Pale Blue Dot..." I gestured back at the poster with my head.
"And the Golden Record," I said, as I gestured at the air around us with my hands, trying to convey that I was talking about the music.
"I can..." they said, "but don't you already know it? Well, doesn't everyone?"
"Yeah," I said, "but you tell it so well."
They raised an eyebrow, "And where have you heard me doing that?"
"Oh," I said, "you know, at the library that you sometimes volunteer at, back on the homeship."
They blushed a little, "Oh, you've seen that?"
I chuckled, and said, "It's nothing to be embarrassed about. And the kids seem to love it."
My companion smiled, "They do."
I looked at my companion expectantly, "So..."
They chuckled, "Alright, sure. Why not?"
And so, they began, "Long ago..."
... humans lived on a planet named Earth.
And unlike our homeship which drifts through space, the Earth circled around a bright star named Sol - though most people just called it the Sun, since that was the only one that they had ever known.
Back then, humans knew very little about anything that wasn't on Earth, and only a few of them had ever even gone into space.
And so, to try and understand what laid beyond their planet, humanity created the Voyagers - Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, two space probes that humanity had poured all of their knowledge and effort into building.
These two probes would carry humanity's hopes and dreams out into their Solar System... and beyond.
They would collect data from space and send it back to Earth - precious data about planets like the giant Jupiter and the ringed Saturn, data about things like cosmic rays and solar winds, and data about whatever else they would encounter out in space.
'But, wait,' the scientists and the builders of the Voyagers thought to themselves, 'what if there is other life out there, in space? Life other than what's on Earth?'
'Do we really want them to just see these machines - these cold instruments of data collection - as the first thing that they encounter from Earth and humanity?'
And so, humanity created the Golden Record - a record filled with images and sounds of Earth and the humans of the time, filled with greetings to whoever was out there, and filled with a precious selection of music.
It not only carried their sounds, their images, and their music - but, as one of their leaders would say, it also carried their thoughts and their feelings as well.
Thus, both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 each carried with it a copy of the Golden Record, along with instructions on how to play it, and they became more than just machines for collecting data - they became the carriers of humanity's hopes and dreams.
And as the two space probes were launched into space, and they began to send data back to Earth, they became humanity's guides into space as well.
"Beautiful," I said, "Beautifully told."
My companion smiled and blushed a little again, "Thank you."
In the background, the song ended, and another one began to play.
We both took a moment to look out of the window, into the vastness of space.
Then, my companion asked, "Should I continue?"
I smiled, and said, "Please do."
My companion nodded, and began the next part of the story, "Years had passed..."
... and Voyager 1 was now nearing the edge of Earth's solar system.
It had been diligently sending data and images back to the scientists on Earth.
Soon, however, certain components of it would need to be shut down, so that it could conserve its power as it continued its mission.
And that included its cameras.
As the Voyager got further away from Earth, the harder it would be for the probe to send images back to Earth - thus, turning off the cameras made sense.
Sensing, however, that there was one more important thing that had to be done before that could happen, a scientist by the name of Carl Sagan asked that the probe turn its cameras around to take one last picture of the Earth.
Years would pass, however, before the picture could be taken.
There seemed to be always something that prevented it from happening - whether that was technical-related, personnel-related, or something else entirely.
But, through the hard work of those working with Voyager 1, and a little bit of luck, it finally happened - the probe had managed to take a picture of Earth, and the image had managed to make its way back to the planet.
And although Earth was just a tiny Pale Blue Dot on the photo, a tiny speck in the middle of the vast darkness of space, that was enough.
It was enough for humanity to gain a new perspective of their place in the universe.
That all that they had ever been, up to that point, was on that little dot - that 'mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam', as Sagan himself would say.
And so, having taken one last picture of the place that humanity had called home, Voyager 1 turned off its cameras.
And it continued on its journey, guiding humanity into the stars.
My companion finished the story.
Taking a moment, I contemplated on the story that I had just heard - a story that I had heard many times throughout my life.
Finally, I chuckled and said, "Kinda funny, isn't it?"
"What?" my companion asked.
"That we're now using the Voyagers to guide us back to Earth," I said, "that we're now using all the data that they had sent back to Earth to guide humanity into space... to guide us back to Earth."
My companion laughed, "I hadn't thought of it that way. But, now that you mention it, it is kind of funny."
"I mean," I said, trying to finish my sentence before laughing, "we even have both of the probes on the homeship! We're trying to bring them back to Earth!"
The two of us burst into laughter at the absurdity of it.
"Thank you, by the way," I said, as our laughter died down, "The way that you told the story..."
"It reminded me about why we're doing this," I said.
I took their hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
They smiled and gave my hand a gentle squeeze as well.
Suddenly, a loud guitar riff interrupted us, before the drums joined in as well - the next song on the Record had begun playing.
Surprised and embarrassed, we both pulled our hands back.
"W-Well, um," my companion began, "s-should we be on our way?"
I nodded, "Y-Yes, let's go."
And so, our scoutship began making its way back to the homeship, as Johnny B. Goode blared on the speakers.
A small scoutship makes its way back to its homeship - a giant spaceship that carries all of known humanity within it.
Inside the homeship rests Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.
And so, the Voyagers begin another journey, guiding humanity once more - this time, back to that Pale Blue Dot.
And that wraps up this collection of Retelling Myths!
This was released three years, to the date, after I had released the very first Retelling Myths - so, just in time for the third anniversary!
33 stories in 3 years - that's not bad!
To begin, I would like to thank my friend for inspiring part of this story - they're a librarian who also tells stories to kids, so you can guess which part they inspired.
As for the story itself - some of the historical details and reasons about the Voyager program are fudged, and it was definitely romanticized.
But, that is exactly what would happen if someone was telling somebody about an event that had happened a long time ago, especially if they were telling it as a story.
That being said, however, I didn't change much of the story this time, so I don't have a long commentary for it.
I chose to end this collection with this story because I felt that it was a good story to carry us into the future.
After a full set of stories that retold tales about and from the past, I felt that it was important to end on a story about the future.
And I wanted to end on the note that even in the far future, humans will still be... retelling myths.
As mentioned, this will be my last Retelling Myths for the next little while.
After 33 stories in 3 years, I definitely need a break.
I definitely still have plans for more stories, this Substack, and other projects.
But, more of that in two weeks.
For now, thank you for joining me as we wrap up this three year journey.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed the stories! 😄
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