Thursday, 30 November 2017

40 years of Voyaging - Part 3

This is my last look at the Voyager Program, probably the most ambitious of its kind. Other probes have been sent to explore the solar system, but none has had the vast scope of the Voyagers in its wide-ranging travels.

The Voyager Program was similar to the Planetary Grand Tour planned during the late 1960s and early 70s. The Grand Tour would take advantage of an alignment of the outer planets discovered by Gary Flandro, an aerospace engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This alignment, which occurs once every 175 years, would occur in the late 1970s and make it possible to use gravitational assists to explore Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Limited funding ended the Grand Tour program, but elements were incorporated into the Voyager Program, which fulfilled many of the flyby objectives of the Grand Tour except a visit to Pluto.

Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers

Carl Sagan insisted that Voyager 1 turn its camera toward Earth registering the smallness of our world against the vastness of space, the "pale blue dot" picture. Sagan's eloquent lines, as he reflected upon our planet -"everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives ... on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

As for the future, it is expected that in the year 40,272 AD, Voyager 1 will come within 1.7 light years of an obscure star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Bear or Little Dipper). 

And in about 40,000 years, Voyager 2 will come within about 1.7 light years of a star called Ross 248, a small star in the constellation of Andromeda.

And finally, Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist, California Institute of Technology, holds a model of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft during a news conference to discuss the Voyager 1 spacecraft officially venturing into interstellar space. Now 81, in 1972,  he became project scientist for the planet-hopping Voyager mission.


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