Voyager 1, the only spacecraft ever to travel beyond the solar system, will mark its 40th anniversary next month.
On 5 September 1977, humanities Voyager 1 took to the far-flung corners of the universe, finally leaving the solar system five years ago.
Its twin, Voyager 2, which left Earth on August 20 1977, is expected to enter interstellar space in the next few years.
Both these crafts feature long-lasting nuclear-powered batteries and continue to communicate with the US space agency from billions of miles away.
Distance covered and findings so far
Now almost 13 billion miles away from Earth, Voyager 1 is currently travelling northward, in relation to our world, at over 30,000 mph.
Voyager 1 has told its controllers just how harsh the interstellar environment is, with cosmic radiation levels four times higher than they are around the Earth.
In roughly 40,000 years, the vessel is expected to fly past a star 17.6 light years away called AC+79 3888 in the constellation Ophiuchus.
Voyager 2 is nearly 11 billion miles away from Earth and travelling in the opposite direction, allowing scientists to compare the two regions of space.
You can follow the live Mission Status here.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator at Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate, said: “I believe that few missions can ever match the achievements of the Voyager spacecraft during their four decades of exploration.”
“They have educated us to the unknown wonders of the universe and truly inspired humanity to continue to explore our solar system and beyond.”
Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have ever flown by all four outer planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Between them, Voyager 2 has made a number of discoveries, including:
- The first active extra-terrestrial volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io
- Hints of a subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europe
- An Earth-like atmosphere on Saturn’s moon Titan
- Icy geysers on Neptune’s moon Triton
What next for Voyager 1 and Voyager 2?
US controllers expect to have switched off the last Voyager science spacecraft by 2030, but even then the vessel will continue silently coasting on an endless odyssey that will see them complete an orbit of the Milky Way galaxy every 225 million years.
Voyager project scientist Ed Stone, based at the California Institute of Technology, said: “None of us knew, when we launched 40 years ago, that anything would still be working and continuing on this pioneering journey.
“The most exciting thing they find in the next five years is likely to be something that we didn’t know was out there to be discovered.”
Its astronauts have circled the world, walked on the moon, piloted the first winged spacecraft, and constructed the International Space Station.
Fifty years ago, the U.S. Congress introduced newfound technologies to the public. Decades down the line, NASA continues to develop new technologies that have evolved immensely from those used in previous years.
Daring to challenge the impossible and brave new frontiers of exploration and technologies – has brought NASA, and indeed mankind, endless discoveries, revelations, and dramatic moments of pride and wonder.
Exploring the cosmos has transformed medicine, transportation, public safety, recreation, environmental monitoring and resource management, computer technology, industrial productivity, and our perception of the planet on which we live and the universe of which our Earth is one small part.
Also read: Space-based solar power: Powering the earth
Image Source: Motherboard