The summer of 1977 was an exciting time for space exploration. Scientists prepped twin long-distance spacecrafts for a mission to explore the far reaches of the Solar System. Voyager 2 launched earlier in the summer, but Voyager 1 departed planet Earth on September 5 (coincidentally, the same date that the space shuttle Discovery would later return to Earth in 1984). The Voyager crafts took vastly different routes, but together they helped NASA flesh out a “family portrait of four giant planets, their ring systems and magnetic fields, plus forty-eight of their moons,” according to Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration by Chris Impey and Holly Henry. Here are some other quick facts about the Voyager mission gleaned from the book which is a fascinating history of unmanned space exploration:
1.) Each Voyager spacecraft weighs about 800 kilograms, about the same as a Smart Car weighs, but much less than a Mini Cooper (surprising how much they weigh — check it out.)
2.) They have traveled more than 10 billion miles–more than a trip to Pluto and back–since they launched in 1977 and they are still going. You can track their location and see their mileage ticking away at this neat site from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA.
3.) Attached to the body of each spacecraft is a gold-plate, copper phonograph record that contains musical selections, images, and audio greetings in many world languages. What is on this record? According to Smithsonian Magazine, this time capsule disc contains over 150 recordings including Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”, whale songs, and a greeting from Nick Saga, Carl Sagan’s son in which he says, “Hello from the children of planet Earth.”
4.) The Voyager craft get great mileage — 80,000 miles per gallon — in part because they also use Radioisotopic Themoelectric Generators as a continuous source of power.
5.) The Voyager spacecrafts have about 160,000 Twitter followers and spend their time congratulating other Space missions. They actually have a good sense of humor as evidenced by this tweet:
— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) December 18, 2013
6.) While the Voyager technology was cutting edge for the 1970s, it is quite obsolete now. The video camera attached to each Voyager craft was designed by RCA in the 1950s and the information they transmit travels at a rate 25,000 times slower than “basic broadband” internet service. In spite of this, Voyager supplied iconic images like this one of Neptune:
7.) Voyager 1 made lots of important discoveries about Jupiter including two new moons (Thebe and Metis) and a faint ring system. The Voyager spacecraft also observed eruptions on Io, another Jupiter moon, which marked the first time volcanic activity was observed anywhere but Earth.
8.) Voyager 1 was the first man-made object to leave the solar system and it continues to travel out into the universe, sending bits of information back to scientists on Earth. NASA expects it will go silent sometime in the 2020s.
Read more about unmanned space exploration and missions like Voyager:
|Dreams of Other Worlds:
The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration
Chris Impey & Holly Henry