Thirty-five years ago yesterday, Voyager 1 left the safety of the Earth and is now the oldest operational spacecraft ever built by man.
I can remember being at the 30th anniversary event at JPL and meeting some of the original mission control and engineers that worked on both Voyagers 1 and 2. The debate has always been – are we in interstellar space yet?
Eventually, both spacecraft will make the transition outside the Sun’s influence, known as the heliopause. This is where the interstellar winds meet the limits of the heliosphere. Voyager 1 will be the first man made object in interstellar space!
Although scientists believe that interstellar space is calmer than the heliosphere, I have my doubts. The speed that our solar system is traveling (estimated at 568,000 m.p.h.) leads me to think that there might be sterner tests for the spacecraft. This is very exciting. I love first time theories being put to the test. Will I be right, will someone else? Empirical evidence will reveal the truth.
Although Voyager 1 and 2 are headed in opposite directions, they will be the first of many (hopefully) spacecraft that venture outside our system. New Horizons will be shooting by the PLANET pluto (yes, I said the P word again!) in 2015 heading to interstellar space faster than any other spacecraft to date.
Voyager 1 is currently about 10,619,000,000 miles (1.7090×1010 km) or 114.24 AU from the Sun and traveling outward at roughly 3.6 AU per year (17 km/s).
Voyager 2 passed the termination shock into the heliosheath on 2007 October 30. Unlike Voyager 1, it has a working plasma science instrument, which is enabling it to return data on the temperature and pressure of this region. Voyager 2 is about 100 AU from the Sun and traveling outward at roughly 3.263 AU per year .
Even New Horizons 3rd stage, a STAR-48 booster, will make it to interstellar space! The first litter from the Earth.
I still remember the first time I watched Star Trek and heard the (now appropriately modified words) “To boldly go where no one has gone before,” and Voyager 1 is about to do just that.
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– Ex astris, scientia –
I am and avid amateur astronomer and patent attorney. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +