Happy Birthday to Voyager!
News story originally written on August 19, 2002
NASA's Voyager mission is 25 years old and still going strong! Both spacecrafts Voyager 1 (launched September 5, 1977) and Voyager 2 (launched August 20, 1977) continue to travel through space and still send signals back to Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) headquarters in Pasadena, California. "Back in 1977, we had no way to know they would last so long," says Dr. Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist, about the Voyager spacecraft, "We were initially just on a four-year journey".
During the early years of the Voyager mission the spacecrafts reported some amazing and previously unknown facts from around our solar system. They found active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io, huge storms in Jupiter's atmosphere, kinks and spokes on Saturn's rings, a hazy atmosphere on Saturn's moon Titan, fast winds on Neptune, and geysers on Neptune's moon Triton.
Voyager 1 is now so far away that radio signals traveling at the speed of light take 12 hours to get to JPL from the spacecraft. Scientists hope that both Voyager spacecrafts will still be working when they reach the interstellar space beyond the heliopause, where our Sun has no influence. Even though Voyager 1 is traveling a million miles a day towards the heliopause, it will take between seven and 21 years for it to get there. This is because the heliopause does not always stay in the same position. There is a good chance the spacecraft will still be operational by the time is gets there since it has enough power to keep working until 2020.
Even if it is no longer working when it reaches the heliopause, Voyager 1 will embark on an important mission as it heads off into interstellar space. The spacecraft will head off into the universe carrying recorded sounds and images from Earth. Who knows who (or what) might receive our message!