Rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry died at his home near Wentzville, Missouri on Saturday. And while Berry leaves behind an immeasurable musical legacy on Earth, his music may outlast humanity as his tunes travel beyond our solar system aboard NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. In a letter to Berry on the musician’s 60th birthday, astronomer Carl Sagan drove home just how timeless Berry’s music had become.
In the grand human tradition of bonding over shared music, NASA scientists decided that Berry’s influence on our culture was so significant that he should help represent us to whatever forms of life exist beyond our planet. One of Berry’s most famous songs, “Johnny B. Goode,” makes up part of a mixtape that scientists pressed onto the gold records that travel aboard Voyager 1 and 2, along with Beethoven’s fifth symphony, greetings in 55 languages, sounds of nature, and a handful of other songs and messages meant to represent humanity to whoever might come across them. NASA launched Berry’s music into space in the summer of 1977, just before his 51st birthday.
“When they tell you your music will live forever, you can usually be sure they’re exaggerating. But Johnny B. Goode is on the Voyager interstellar records attached to NASA’s Voyager spacecraft — now two billion miles from Earth and bound for the stars,” Sagan writes. “These records will last a billion years or more.”
Berry leaves behind his wife of almost 70 years, Themetta Suggs, as well as their four children: Ingrid Berry, Melody Eskridge, Aloha Isa Leigh Berry, and Charles Berry Jr. He was 90 years old.