Voyager missions mark 40 years exploring the final frontier

BY ED MASON | PUBLISHED: 09-08-2017

On Tuesday, NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum celebrated the 40th anniversary of two Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 to explore the cosmos.

On Tuesday, NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum celebrated the 40th anniversary of two Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 to explore the cosmos.

Voyager 1 has left the solar system while Voyager 2 is in that region of space encompassing the solar system called the heliosphere where the solar wind still exerts a significant influence, according to NASA.
Credit for the success of the Voyager missions goes to development of the idea of 'gravity assist,' by which a spacecraft passing near a planet can take advantage of some of its orbital momentum and accelerate without using any rocket fuel, and the space probes' efficient power source.

For power, the spacecraft used plutonium-238, an isotope that emits heat as it decays to more stable forms. Then, the heat is converted through a series of thermocouples to provide power for the satellites' equipment, according to a report by Sky & Telescope.

Also important to the missions' success are the self-repairing computer systems aboard the spacecraft. Each computer has multiple modules that compare data received. If one module differs from the others, it is replaced with a backup.

"It's amazing that the two spacecraft are still working after 40 years," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist since 1972, as reported by International Business Times. "When we launched, the Space Age was only 20 years old, so this is an unparalleled journey, and we're still in the process of seeing what's out there."

The Voyager missions have greatly expanded scientific knowledge about the solar system, including that active volcanoes are not restricted to Earth and that Saturn's moon Titan has a nitrogen-abundant atmosphere.

Because plutonium-238 has a half-life of 87.7 years, the Voyager spacecraft are operating with about half their original power supply.

"We have about 10 years or so of power remaining until we have only enough to power the spacecraft itself, without any of the instruments," Stone said

 

 

Comments
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 19, 2017
On Tuesday, NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum celebrated the 40th anniversary of two Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 to explore the cosmos.
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 19, 2017
On Tuesday, NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum celebrated the 40th anniversary of two Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 to explore the cosmos.
Wilson Soto - Sep 19, 2017
On Tuesday, NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum celebrated the 40th anniversary of two Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 to explore the cosmos.
Dan Taylor - Sep 19, 2017
On Tuesday, NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum celebrated the 40th anniversary of two Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 to explore the cosmos.
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 18, 2017
On Tuesday, NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum celebrated the 40th anniversary of two Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 to explore the cosmos.
Joseph Scalise - Sep 18, 2017
On Tuesday, NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum celebrated the 40th anniversary of two Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 to explore the cosmos.
Joyce Clark - Sep 16, 2017
On Tuesday, NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum celebrated the 40th anniversary of two Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 to explore the cosmos.