No one would have guessed back in 1977 that the unmanned spacecrafts, Voyager 1 and 2, would still be up and running over forty years later.
But, in November 2018, Voyager 1 left the Solar System we call home, and ventured out into interstellar space, a feat achieved by
Voyager 2 back in 2013.
Now, this human made spacecraft is on a new mission, one that may just outlast the human race itself. So, let’s dig into this first article in my new series on Science Talk.
Never Expected Exploration
When I turned 3 years old, the adults in this world were underway in launching two unmanned spacecraft from earth. As I grew older, I saw the stories about the golden record that had the recordings of human voices in several languages, saying hello to any alien life that might come across one of these ships and have the wherewithal to play it and also understand it.
It captured the imagination of an entire nation – the entire world – and that imagination would give spark to decades of alien themed movies and television shows and books and video games, all pointing to outer space as something within human grasp.
Of course, all these many years later, despite the grand imaginings, humans have explored very little off this planet. We have send a few robots to Mars. We maintain the international space station. We have a few ships heading away from us that send back data of this kind or that.
But, the manned missions are just now being planned for these places. We have yet to figure out a fuel that will sustain us in perpetual space exploration, and, until we do make such a breakthrough, we are forced to rely on unmanned drones to do the heavy lifting for us.
Simply put, the distances are just too great. It’s just too far.
Despite our limitations, though, we have made great strides. Back in 2012, one of those unmanned ships hit a milestone. It crossed the boundary of our Solar System and entered interstellar space, breaking the hold of the sun, and ventured out into uncharted territory.
It went beyond the planets and has reached the halfway point between us and our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, this little ship has set the cruise control to 35,000 mph, and programmed it’s TOM TOM for a distant destination – which will take 40,000 years to reach (or, roughly, 2 light years).
This trip will eventually take it to the star AC+79 3888, in the constellation of Camelopardalis, and, if the predominate indications are correct, by the time Voyager 1 finishes it’s trip, the human race will be extinct – I’m betting from Zombies, or a biological outbreak, or Vampires, or some such nonsense. It would be fitting, wouldn’t it?
Now, Voyager 2 took a different route, but it is also still functioning, even after 41 years in space.
It crossed the boundary of our Solar System in November of 2018, and is now on a direct course toward Sirius.
Traveling at a speed of 40,000 mph, it will take Voyager 2 approximately 296,000 years to reach its destination. Of course, this means earth, if even still around, will be a much different place. Some speculate that by the time earth is no longer habitable for life, other planets like Titan might become preferential for biological transplant.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
The Voyager Mission
In the long run, unless the Voyager ships get clobbered by an asteroid or comet, humanity has left it’s mark on the world – on the universe – and those who come after us will get at least a glimpse at what we were capable of as a distinct and sentient species.
Voyager Mission Status Website
For those who are curious about where the Voyager ships are right at this moment, NASA has put together a website Status page, that allows the general public to track Voyager 1 and 2 in real time.
You can check it out here.
So, to crunch some numbers, Voyager 1 is traveling at 38,000 mph, and is approximately 13 billion miles away from earth.
Voyager 2 is around 11 billion miles from earth and is traveling at approximately 34,000 mph.
Cost of Mission
Since the launch in 1977, the total cost for the Voyager Mission has reached 865 million dollars.
Yeah, I said million.
But, when you calculate this out, it comes to about 8 cents per US Citizen per year and is only a fraction of the daily interest on our national debt.
It has cost 11,000 work hours, which is only a third of the effort put into building the great pyramid at Giza.
I’m always amazed at the things happening around me that I know virtually nothing about. I had no idea that Voyager 1 and 2 were still out there (or that they had been sent in the first place). They are nearly as old as I am, and have been traveling for as long as I’ve been alive.
The same goes for landing the third craft on Mars. I had no idea Spirit or Opportunity were wheeling around the Red Planet, and I barely caught the landing of Curiosity back in 2012.
Since then, I’ve tried to keep my ear to the ground, keep up on the current events. Now we are abuzz with talk of manned missions to Mars and possibly the Moon. Elon is desperate to get off this planet before we all die from one thing or the other.
What do you think?
Will Voyager 1 and 2 outlive their creators? Will they reach their respective destinations, only to have the human race back on planet earth absent and forever gone?
Tell me your answer in the comments below.
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