- Scientific American reports that NASA is shutting down its Voyager sensor systems this year.
- Investigations falter after 45 years – the move is a way to keep it going until 2030.
- Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 which put it further than any other object made by humans.
Scientific American reports that the epic interstellar flights of NASA’s famed Voyager probes will end as the agency begins shutting down their systems.
The probe was launched 45 years ago, in 1977, and has pushed the boundaries of space exploration ever since. They are further from Earth than any other man-made object, a record likely to remain unbroken for decades.
The decision to reduce power on the sensors aims to extend their life by a few more years, and move them to around 2030, according to Scientific American.
“We gave a 10x guarantee on monotonous things,” Ralph McNutt, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, told the outlet, referring to initial expectations that their mission would last four years.
The sensors are powered by radioactive plutonium, which has kept the onboard microcomputers running for decades.
Power in the system is decreasing by about 4 watts per year, according to Scientific American, which requires lower energy use.
“If all goes really well, maybe we can extend the missions to 2030. It just depends on strength. That’s the point,” said Spilker.
The primary objective of the two probes was to fly close to Jupiter and Saturn, a task that was soon accomplished. Then they kept going, sending back images of our solar system and radioactive home readings from deep space.
In 1990, Voyager 1 captured the iconic “faint blue dot” composite image, an image of Earth taken 3.7 billion miles from our sun.
The most striking images captured by the probes are shown in the video below.
In 1998, Voyager 1 became the farthest man-made object in space – 6.5 billion miles from Earth.
The probes are now 12 and 14.5 billion miles from Earth, and the number is increasing, according to live tracking from NASA.
This goes beyond what is generally considered the limit of our solar system. Voyager 1 reached “interstellar space” in 2012, Voyager 2 in 2018, and is the first human body to do so in history.
Hard-wired electronic devices have stood the test of time very well, despite their antiquity.
Primitive computers onboard sensors don’t require much power. All data collected by instruments on Voyager is stored on an eight-track tape that is recorded and sent back to Earth using a machine that uses the same amount of power as a refrigerator lamp, according to Scientific American.
They have “less memory than the key fob that unlocks your car door,” Linda Spilker, a planetary scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Scientific American.
With power on the ship dwindling, NASA will have to decide which devices will get power.
After 2030, Voyager will likely lose its ability to communicate with Earth. But this does not necessarily mean that its mission will be finished.
Both carry a “golden record,” a 12-inch gold-plated record that holds information about the Earth.
This includes 115 images and greetings in 55 different languages, sounds including wind, rain, human heartbeat, and 90 minutes of music.
It will be about 20,000 more years before the probes pass by the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, with this time capsule of human life per Scientific American.