Sputnik 1 was the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. Launched in 1957, it was about as big as a beach ball, weighed less than 100kg and completed a revolution in around 98 minutes. The beeping sound you can hear is the radio signal that Sputnik 1 emitted – coming through loud and clear!
Until not so long ago, communications between mission control and astronauts would contain high-pitched beeps known as ‘Quindar tones’. Pressing the ‘push-to-talk’ button in the control room generated a first tone, which was followed by the voice of the Capsule Communicator (‘CAPCOM’). A second tone signalled the release of the button, allowing the astronauts to talk back.
Project Mercury, which ran between 1958 and 1963, was NASA’s first ‘man-in-space program’. This clip was recorded during the launch of the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission that sent astronaut M. Scott Carpenter into orbit around the Earth in 1962.
The Delta family of rockets is used to transport communications, weather and science satellites into orbit. The rockets are referred to as ‘expendable launch systems’ because each one is designed to be used only once. Here you can hear the formidable roar of Delta IV’s engines.
Although these sounds recall birdsong, they don’t come from the surface of the Earth. This is a natural phenomenon known as ‘chorus’, caused by plasma waves in the belt of energetic charged particles surrounding the Earth. In 2012, NASA launched two probes to study this region, and it was these that captured this chorus of radio waves. Find out more here.
The Cassini spacecraft went into orbit around Saturn in 2004, on a mission to study the gas giant’s rings, magnetosphere and moons. It can also detect the ringed planet’s radio emissions, linked to aurorae near Saturn’s poles. Once the emissions are shifted to audible frequencies, the result is what you hear in this clip.
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and its companion Voyager 2 were only originally intended to study Jupiter and Saturn, but they’re both still going strong today. A major breakthrough came in 2012 when Voyager 1 became the first human-made object to enter interstellar space. Here, Voyager 1 detected plasma waves – responsible for the isolated high-pitched sounds you can hear in this recording.
The Kepler space observatory is designed to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. To date, the mission’s official website reports 989 confirmed planets and some 4,000 candidates. Kepler detects exoplanets using the transit method, which looks for the dip in a star’s light as a planet passes in front of it. In this clip, you’re listening to the light curve for one particular star, converted into sound waves.
ATO stands for ‘Abort to Orbit’. This emergency Space Shuttle procedure was performed if the spacecraft was unable to reach the planned orbit, but could opt for an alternative stable orbit instead. Space Shuttle Discovery completed 39 successful flights between 1984 and 2011, and is now on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre in Virginia, US.
Apollo 13 was supposed to be the third manned mission to the Moon, but around 56 hours after launch, one of the craft’s oxygen tanks exploded. Although the crew – Fred Haise, James Lovell and Jack Swigert – didn’t make it to the Moon, they did survive the scare and returned safely to Earth a few days later.
Browse NASA’s full collection of sound clips here.
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