After 35 years, Voyager I has truly gone “where no man has gone before” or at least no man made object. When the spacecraft was launched in 1977, scientist hoped to receive information about Jupiter and Saturn. No one had any idea how long the spacecraft would last, but they have enough fuel to last until 2020 which should put them outside the solar system and into the Milky Way.
In the 35 years that Voyager has been hurdling through space, it has visited Saturn and Jupiter and traveled billion and billions of miles. It is now 11 billion miles from the sun. Its twin, Voyager 2 which was also launched in 1977, is 9 billion miles from the sun.
The original scientists were amazed at the pictures that Voyager I sent back from the two giant planets. It highlighted Jupiter’s big red spot and the rings around Saturn. There was much new information garnered from these photos including the information that there were volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon lo, a possible ocean on another of Jupiter’s moons Europa and hints that Saturn’s moon Tuan might have methane rain. All of this was exciting new information and Voyager 2 went on to visit Uranus and Neptune while Voyager I headed to the edge of the solar system.
The cameras that are on-board are no longer turned on and there are no full time scientists who are assigned to the Voyager Mission. No one ever expected it to last this long. While pictures won’t be coming in as Voyager leaves the solar system behind, there are other instruments on board the spacecraft that are capable of sending back detailed information.
When compared with the computers of today, everything on Voyager is a dinosaur. Its computer memory is 68KB, just for comparison sake, these days most digital photos are larger than 68K. There was no digital memory in 1977 and the spacecrafts have eight track tape players which most young people have never even heard of.
It takes radio information broadcast by Voyager 1, 17 hours to reach Earth where a few engineers are responsible for analyzing the data that it sends.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, no one on Earth will enjoy the moment more than 76-year-old Ed Stone, who worked on the project from the very beginning. “We’re anxious to get outside and find what’s out there,” Stone said. “Time after time, Voyager revealed unexpected — kind of counter-intuitive — results, which means we have a lot to learn.”
Voyager uses atomic fuel and who knows what amazing discoveries it will be sending back to Earth over the next 8 years. It has had great result considering that it was only a small part of a bigger project that never came to fruition. One can only guess at all the great discoveries that would have been made had the Voyager Mission launched the full fleet of 4 space crafts that were initially planned. On the flip side, perhaps the crafts would not have survived if they had not cut back and put the money into constructing more durable spaceships.