The Voyager Program: One Of The Greatest Space Missions Of All Time
Source: Open Talk Magazine 11/12/2010 14:04:00
Space, and the universe was well known by many to be man’s final frontier, and after thousands of years gazing at the sky, we have finally taken the first steps outside our home planet. Since the successful launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, we have seen and witnessed countless more space missions—all of them contributing gradually towards man’s conquest of space. But there is one specific space mission that has achieved what no other space mission had done before, and possibly no other near-future space mission can do. This space mission has probably contributed more than all of the previous space missions combined. This is the story of the legendary journey of the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft.
The Voyager mission was a mission that was eventually inspired after an incredible observation by astronomers. The late 1970’s was a time of a very rare event that took place in the Solar System. This was a time when the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto aligned together, enabling a single unmanned probe to fly straight at this alignment to observe and study each of the outer planets easily.
Since this phenomenon only happens once every 176 years, NASA engineers and scientists raced against time to develop a plan and design a probe quickly to grasp this very rare and golden opportunity. They named this program the Grand Tour, and even though Voyager 1 and 2 were initially not part of this program, they were launched to fulfill this task of streaming through the outer planets. Voyager 2 was launched first, on August 20, 1977, followed by Voyager 1 on September 5, 1977.
Each of the probes sent back never-before-seen stunning images and data of the outer planets, and gave numerous valuable data for future spacecraft technology. Since the mission started at a later time, Voyager 2 was unable to get a close-up image of Pluto. Voyager 1 was placed at a trajectory that would bring it to Saturn’s moon Titan, instead of going to Pluto. Nevertheless, the images of the outer planets up-close enthralled everyone; yet again changing our view of the universe around us. Legendary cosmologist Carl Sagan even requested the Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990 to turn itself around and take one last picture of the Earth, before it passes Saturn. This became widely known around the world as the “Pale Blue Dot”.
The path that the two Voyager probes took would eventually guide them straight out of the solar system. And so, scientists have installed a gold record on each of the probes. Unlike the golden plaques of the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, the Voyager Golden Record is a phonograph record, and it contains various acoustic data about our planet. This data includes animal sounds, sounds of the environment, people, and music. This disk also contains selected images of the planet and our legacy. It is made with the same purpose as the golden plaques: to eternally engrave our existence through the cosmos, and to speak of it to future spacefarers and possible extraterrestrials.
As of 2010, about 33 years after its launch, Voyager 2 still sends data and signals back home. It would still take until the year 2025 before it totally loses power to use any on-board instrument. But even then, it would still continue traversing into deep space; carrying the entire history of the Earth, and representing the entire legacy of man on this “pale blue dot”.