Yesterday NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft became the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space. The 36-year-old probe is roughly 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometers) from our Sun.
In watching the live feed from NASA JPL in Pasadena, California, I loved the fact that the people speaking are the same that were involved in the project at its start. This not only shows the coherence of the JPL team, but that with time, men and women can remain involved and important to such incredible missions. Their heritage, as much as the spacecraft itself, is imperative to the future of exploration of our solar system and the greater universe.
- Voyager 1 has traveled 11,600,000,000 miles.
- Each of its daily transmissions require 17 hours to reach Earth. At the source, the signal is 22 Watts of energy, but at reception by the Deep Space Network, it is just 1/10th of a billion-billionth of a Watt.
- The Very Large Array (VLA) in Socorro, New Mexico was able to image Voyager 1 even at the incredible distance of 11.5 billion miles.
- Voyager 1 uses an on-board radio-isotope thermoelectric generator whose total power output decays at the rate of 4 Watts per year. There is ample on-board power to operate the “Fields of Particles” detector to 2020. Then, via remote control, project managers will disable one instrument at a time in order to give Voyager the capacity to continue to transmit messages for a final 10 years.
- Voyager 1 is heading to a star called AC+793988. It will arrive in 13,000 years, swing by this star, and then continue to orbit the center of our galaxy.
- As a messenger for our species, both Voyager I and II contain a golden record designed by Carl Sagan and his team. This time capsule contains images and sounds of Earth, a sample of scientific data, and a map. If ever discovered by an intelligent life form this record provides a sample of who we were at the time of launch and how to find our planet should they decide to come by for a visit. What’s more, Carl Sagan and his wife Anne Druyan were engaged to be married during the course of a phone call about the music to be included. Anne’s brainwaves were sampled to capture the essence of falling in love, with hope that an intelligent species may someday decode the thought patterns. The full story is available from NPR’s RadioLab.