Space… the final frontier.
This is the voyage of the space probe, er… Voyager — which isn’t a terribly original name — but nonetheless its mission has really been to explore our galaxy’s worlds and possibly seek out new life and new civilizations.
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is an unmanned probe sent into space to provide data and details about the planets Saturn and Jupiter, as well as their moons. Its sister spacecraft, named Voyager 2 but launched a few weeks earlier, also made passes by Saturn and Jupiter, but also did a flyby of Neptune and had an encounter with Uranus (I’ll wait until some of the more immature readers stop giggling).
Although Voyager 1’s primary mission ended in 1980 after passing through the Saturnian system, it made news this past month when NASA officials reported the probe had reached interstellar space and become the first human-made object to leave the solar system.
NASA has said that Voyager had left the solar system before, but scientists continue to debate where that imaginary line exists between our system and deep space. Regardless, Voyager is way out there and currently about 19 billion kilometres from our sun and still travelling about 3.5 times the Earth-sun distance every year.
The craft carries a gold-plated, audio-visual disc that contains pictures of Earth, its location and its life forms, plus some other scientific information (maybe like how to get the caramel into the Caramilk bar, or how many licks it takes to get to the centre of a Tootsie Pop), as well as sounds of whales, babies crying, and music from the likes of Mozart and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode.”
The disc is there in the event Voyager 1 is ever found by intelligent life forms from other solar systems as it wanders the infinite vastness of space where nobody can hear you scream, “Go, go… Johnny B Goode.”
Famed scientist Stephen Hawking and other big thinkers have theorized that any intelligent life actually advanced enough to reach our planet would likely not be the friendly sort, and possibly be conqueror/invader types looking to take our resources and put us all into intergalactic slavery. So, in hindsight, it’s debatable whether giving extraterrestrials our exact location and level of scientific knowledge — on a gold platter no less — was such a great idea.
Presumably the crying sounds were included on the recording so the aliens can accurately gauge our level of terror during an invasion.
But it is pretty astounding that something using 1970s technology is still working perfectly after more than 36 years drifting along in the cold reaches of outer space. Most of my modern tech gives up the ghost after about a year or two of use.
But Voyager won’t be working for much longer. It currently takes about 17 hours for signals and data from Voyager 1 to reach Earth, but that will change as the craft gets further away, and although powered by radioactivity rather than solar panels, its energy is running down as the radioactive fuel decays — so NASA expects to receive signals only until about 2020. After that, it’ll just be the first human-made piece of useless trash to explore interstellar space, or the galaxy’s most expensive and complex record jacket, depending on how you look at it.
Who knows what Voyager will encounter as it hurtles through the inky void, or if it will even ever come into extraterrestrial hands, er tentacles… whatever. The craft won’t even approach another star for nearly 40,000 years, even though it’s moving at 45km/s (or 100,000 mph). But, just in case, let me welcome our glorious alien insect overlords ahead of time, and pledge my loyalty in exchange for not being vaporized with a ray gun, or possibly eaten.
Hey, as Voyager boldly goes where no man-made object has gone before… it’s every human for himself.