Thirty Years of Voyaging

The two NASA Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are sometimes called the little robots that could. They’ve been chugging along the Martian landscape for over three years, returning scads of excellent data.

They’ve got nothing on the two Voyager probes.

Voyager 2 launched on August 20th, 1977; in a reversal of numbering, Voyager 1 launched on September 5th. Both probes were designed to visit Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Because of how those four planets were aligned in the early 1980s, a single probe could visit all four by using each planet’s gravity to slingshot the probe towards the next one and do it in a reasonable period of time.

Instead of a single probe, NASA sent two, and they both worked beautifully. They found volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io, and discovered several new Jovian moons. They investigated Saturn’s rings. Voyager 2 visited Uranus and Neptune.

Both are still operating. Voyager 1 has gone farther than any other human-made object. It’s 100 times farther from the sun than Earth is, and is likely to cross the boundary between solar space and interstellar space. Voyager 2 is 80 times as far from the Sun as Earth is. They’ve got enough power to run until around 2020.

Not bad for two probes designed for a four-year mission.

[tags]Voyager, NASA, space probes, beep beep beep[/tags]

4 thoughts on “Thirty Years of Voyaging

  1. One thing I forgot to mention: I can remember being in second grade or so and my teacher showing me a magazine cover — Time, perhaps? — with Saturn looming large on it. “This has the pictures from Voyager in it,” she said. I leafed through it in fascination, looking at the moons and rings and marveling at the vastness of space.

  2. I remember being in elementary school when these launched and thinking that it would be a long time until they reached their destinations. I felt the excitement that came as new discoveries were made with each planet they visited. I seem to recall that although Voyager I was launched second, it reached its destination quicker, although I could be mistaken. I’m wondering if NASA is still receiving signals from them even though they are so far away now. I’m looking forward to 2010 (2011?) when the new probe reaches Pluto.

  3. Voyager 1 did indeed beat 2 to the planets despite being launched afterwards. And NASA is still receiving signals from them. They’re using Voyager 1 to look for the heliopause.

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