Sunday, February 17, 2008

Spaceship Obsession: The Voyager Probes

This is the first in what may be an ongoing series about various spaceships, real and fictional, that have captivated my imagination over the years.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are my first memory of real spacecraft. The craft were originally built to last five years to accommodate flybys of Jupiter and Saturn. Like the more recent Mars rovers, they have survived much longer than their designed lifetime. Their mission was extended to visit Neptune and Uranus, and beyond. The probes continue returning data over thirty years since their launch. They are both now traveling in the heliosheath, the region of space where interstellar gas currents begin to overpower the outflowing gases from the sun.

The Voyager missions saw many tricks of the space exploration trade on display, including remotely reprogramming the on board computers, taking advantage of rare geometrical alignment of the outer planets, and gravitational slingshotting. The probes also carried with them a gold-plated copper phonograph record containing pictures and sounds from Earth, including greetings in fifty-five languages.

While younger folks may stand a better chance of recognizing the Voyager probes from their dubious roles in the first two Star Trek movies than from their groundbreaking interplanetary journey, for me they will always illustrate the fascinating possibilities of space science and exploration. As Dr. Carl Sagan said, "...the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet."

For more information visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Voyager web site.

The image above is presumably copyright NASA, and is used without permission under the presumptive application of the fair use sections of the Copyright Act.

No comments: