With some data issues occurring, NASA has decided to slowly start shutting down the Voyager probes after 45 years in operation. It started with heaters and other nonessential components, and the record-breaking spacecraft will remain operable until around 2030 when their journey will end.
This program is remarkable and groundbreaking for so many reasons, starting with the very lifespan of the spacecraft. So, to celebrate them and their contribution, we’re sharing some of the epic photos they took over their long career.
NASA launched interstellar probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 way back in 1977. They were meant to take advantage of a favorable alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, fly near them, collect the data and transmit them back to Earth. But after the launch, the scientists decided to send Voyager 2 near Uranus and Neptune as well. Interestingly enough, the spacecraft were made to last five years – but they have exceeded all expectations and have lasted forty years more!
With the 45-year-long operation, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have broken many records. First, not surprisingly, it’s the longest-operating spacecraft ever launched. On 17 February 1998, Voyager 1 passed Pioneer 10, by which it became the most distant human-made object in space. And before the New Horizons spacecraft made the new record, Voyager 1 held it for the photos taken the furthest from the Earth.
Speaking of photos taken with the Voyager, many of them were groundbreaking. Certainly the most famous one is Pale Blue Dot, a part of the first-ever “portrait” of the solar system taken by Voyager 1.
Before we move on to the rest of the images, here’s a curiosity: Both Voyager spacecraft carry a phonograph record as a greeting to any form of life they may encounter along the way. The 12-inch gold-plated copper disk contains “sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth,” NASA explains.
“The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages.”
“We’re at 44 and a half years,” said Ralph McNutt, a physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), “so we’ve done 10 times the warranty on the darn things.” But still, this is an emotional time for all the scientists who worked on the project and people who have been following the spacecraft’s journey throughout the years. “If everything goes really well, maybe we can get the missions extended into the 2030s,” Linda Spilker, a planetary scientist from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Scientific American. “It just depends on the power. That’s the limiting point.”
Finally, here are some of the photos the spacecraft have taken over these 45 years. Even though the operation is slowly winding down, I hope that Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 will break a few more records before their long journey is over.
[via Business Insider]