Editorial: Voyager missions to space are a global achievement
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 22:09
One week ago, one of the most improbable feats in human history occurred. The Voyager 1 spacecraft left the solar system, which NASA confirmed after almost a year of debate. In 36 years, Voyager 1 has traveled about 12 billion miles, making it the farthest man-made object from earth and the first man-made object to enter interstellar space. Voyager 2, its twin, should enter interstellar space soon.
The fact that the human race has a presence outside our solar system is truly incredible- the stuff of science fiction. Almost every aspect of the Voyager program has been similarly unbelievable.
Voyager 1 and 2 are success stories of epic proportions. The twin probes were designed to last five years, just long enough to study Saturn and Jupiter, but instead they have lasted decades and were able to explore Neptune, Uranus, and 48 of their moons as well. 11,000 work years went into the Voyager mission just between its inception and the probe’s encounter with Jupiter, which is estimated to be about one third of the work hours it took to build the Great Pyramid at Giza. While passing Jupiter, the probes survived radiation levels 1,000 times greater than those lethal to human.
The Voyager probes took advantage of a rare planetary alignment to use a flight trajectory that swung them around each planet in the direction of the next, allowing them to reach speeds of roughly 35,700 miles per hour, all without significant onboard propulsion systems. How fast is that? Traveling at 60 miles per hour, it would take about 22,000 years to go as far as Voyager 1 has.
Over the last few decades, the Voyager probes have sent back many new discoveries, including volcanic activity on one of Jupiter’s moons and 10 undiscovered moons around Uranus and six around Neptune. Now, they’ll send back information about a completely unexplored region of space. The probes should have enough power to last for another decade.
While Voyager is an American project, it’s an endeavor on a global scale. Scientists from all over the world worked on Voyager, and the antenna complexes that control and receive information from the spacecraft are located on three different continents.
When talking about the voyager mission, there’s a tendency for people to speak of it as a collective action. “We have left the solar system.” There’s something fascinating and inclusive about this. Voyager is an achievement for humanity, not just for one country or generation. It’s an event that the whole world can appreciate, a historic first that brings us all together as people.