Sunday, 13 March 2011

Voyager 1 - Between the Stars

Going the Distance
An artist's illustration of the Voyager spacecraft
17.4 billion km. That's the current distance (As of March 2011) of the Voyager 1 probe from our little blue world. The most distant man-made object. There's something rather poignant about its lonely place in our culture. Along with the moon landings, it's one of the main pinnacles of human achievement. What makes it all the more impressive, is that it's still going. Voyager 1 and 2 are still sending back important information, still transmitting data from their late 70s-based technology.

What have we done since, to equal these achievements? What are we even planning? There's a lesson to be learnt from the forward-looking optimism and dreams that bore such fruit. We're a species that appears to be going backward. Or at best, we're maintaining a kind of cultural stasis, in which our progress moves sideways. Some things improve, others decay, but tragically so few of them still look forward into our distant future.

Interstellar Space
The Voyager 1 Record Cover
Voyager 1 is thought to be reaching that final point at which the influence of our sun ceases to be anything more than another star in the night sky. Then Voyager 1 will enter true interstellar space, the empty vastness between the stars (You can read more detail here). When it can no longer function, I fear that mankind will take far too long to reach a similar level of intrepid exploration and achievement once again.

Its power source is expected to cease providing enough energy to operate the craft, by 2020. 2025 at absolute best. When it stops, the most distant achievement of mankind's glorious exploits will have effectively reached the end of its operational life, but it will still be a message in a bottle. It carries its golden record of images, video and sounds of earth, with a cover of instructions. It would be fitting if one day it got the chance to perform its final and most incredible task...

Read more about the Voyager mission here:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL (

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