UNITED STATES: NASA launched the ‘Voyager 1’ and ‘Voyager 2’ spacecrafts in 1977. The probes, which have the most extended lifespans, just celebrated 45 years in orbit. The probes are now the farthest man-made objects in space after continuing their trip rather than being consigned to antiquity.
These two probes provide a memento of the time they left behind. These “time capsules” transfer data at a rate around 38,000 times slower than a 5G internet connection, including an eight-track tape player for storing data and having about three million times less memory than contemporary cellphones.
However, their data still contributes to our understanding and is used by scientists today, some of whom are younger than the probes themselves, in conjunction with more recent missions to study the Sun and the heliosphere. The bubble-shaped heliosphere, which is far beyond planets’ orbits, is created by solar winds.
“The heliophysics mission fleet offers priceless insights into our Sun. This mission will help to understand the corona, the outermost region of the Sun’s atmosphere, and examine the Sun’s impacts throughout the solar system, including here on Earth, in our atmosphere, and on into interstellar space,” Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington said.
The Voyager missions have revolutionised our understanding of the Sun and its influence in ways that no other spacecraft can, and they have been instrumental in providing this knowledge over the past 45 years.
These Voyager spacecrafts, controlled and directed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, are the only ones to have ever explored interstellar space, the galactic ocean that our Sun and its planets sail through.
It’s interesting to note that each probe carries a golden record with information about Earthly life. These probes are our ambassadors in space, carrying images of life as we know it on Earth, illustrations of fundamental scientific concepts, audio from the natural world, greetings in numerous languages, and music. This idea was the brainchild of famous American astronomer Carl Sagan.
For anyone who might come across the space probes, the gold-coated records serve as a cosmic “message in a bottle.” The records are expected to persist for more than a billion years based on calculations of the rate at which gold decays in space and is corroded by cosmic radiation.
The same year, on August 20, 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 launched into space. Both were meant to go to Jupiter and Saturn, with Voyager 1 overtaking Voyager 2 and reaching them before. Together, the probes learned a lot about the two largest planets and their moons in the solar system.
Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at JPL, said, “The Voyagers have continued to make incredible discoveries, motivating a new generation of scientists and engineers. Although we don’t know how long the mission will go, we can be sure that as the spacecraft gets further from the Earth, it will offer even more scientific surprises.”