From Voyager to V’Ger

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The twin 1970s exploratory craft will become the first Earth-born objects to enter deep space.

Between new rovers, space telescopes and probes, NASA has lots of wonderful exploration going on. We thought it might be time to go a little retro and give a shout-out to two of the most famed space probes of the 1970s: Voyager 1 and 2. Launched in 1977, these workhorses completed their primary mission of exploring the outer planets long ago. Even though they’re both dying as their nuclear power generators run down, they’re still singing their digital song while delivering fascinating information about the boundaries of our solar system. Some time in the next two years, Voyager 1 will become the first manmade object to leave the solar system and enter interstellar space. Voyager 2 is traveling more slowly, but isn’t far behind.

New data from Voyager 1 suggests that it’s nearing the heliosphere’s edge, where it will no longer be influenced by the sun, only high-energy cosmic rays from exploding stars and whatever else buzzes through the vast Milky Way. “When the Voyagers launched in 1977, the space age was all of 20 years old,” says Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology. “Many of us on the team dreamed of reaching interstellar space, but we had no way of knowing how long a journey it would be — or if these two vehicles that we invested so much time and energy in would operate long enough to reach it.”

Today, Voyager 1 is about 11 billion miles from home.

Today, Voyager 1 and its famous golden record containing sounds, pictures and greetings from Earth, is about 11 billion miles from home, traveling nearly 40,000 miles an hour. The probe will still take tens of thousands of years before it gets within a few light years of another star or planet. By then, Voyager 1 will be long dead, so it would take a very advanced alien race to find something so small. We have no idea if the messages on that record will ever be received, and the human race may even be extinct by that time, or at the least drastically different, but we’d like to see things turn out like they did in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, after Voyager fell into a wormhole, mated with an alien probe from a faraway machine civilization, learned all knowledge in the universe and returned home, mad as hell, demanding to know where “the creator” is.

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