They just keep going and going…

Hello all, the much anticipated final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour has now officially been delayed a third time and is slated to happen no earlier than May 16. In the meantime, here is something very exciting for NASA to be proud of:

Two of NASA’s earliest deep-space faring spacecraft are continuing their amazing journey to the very edge of our solar system. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, both launched towards to the outer planets in 1977, are about to leave the sphere of influence of our Sun and become the first ever manmade objects to enter interstellar space. The thirty-plus year old missions have gone above and beyond what any scientists or NASA officials could ever have dreamed of and are now the farthest manmade objects from Earth. Voyager 1‘s primary mission ended back in November 1980, after visiting Jupiter [1979] and Saturn [1980]. It’s twin sister, Voyager 2, saw the completion of its primary mission, to visit Jupiter [1979], Saturn [1980], Uranus [1986], and Neptune [1989] nearly a decade later in December 1989. The Voyagerspacecraft were the first to get detailed images of the gas giants and their moons. Voyager 1 was able to look back at the solar system and piece together the “Family Portrait” shown below.

This composition of images from Voyager 1 showed all the planets in the solar system for the first time. Credit: NASA/GSFC

This image shows one of the earliest glimpses of Saturn, taken by Voyager 1 on its approach of the ringed giant. Credit: NASA/JPL

 Although both spacecraft finished their original missions well over two decades ago, the contribution and relevance of the Voyager mission did not stop there. For over twenty years the two spacecraft have been hurtling away from the Sun under the propulsion of radioactive sources and just a few years ago crossed into the never-before seen heliosheath. This heliosheath is the boundary layer between our Sun’s magnetic field and the fields of the rest of the stars in our galaxy and has proven to be much different than anything scientists could have ever expected. Scientists project that some time between 2012 and 2015 the spacecraft will pass through the outermost boundary of our solar system (the heliopause) and become the first artificial objects ever to leave the solar system. Beyond the influence of our Sun, they will represent mankind’s first firsthand interaction with other stars and once their fuel supplies run out they’ll silently coast among the stars as Earth’s silent ambassadors. Energizer Bunny, eat your heart out.

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2 Responses to They just keep going and going…

  1. Linear Fix says:

    That photograph is fantastic. That’s the same Voyager 1 that captured the Pale Blue Dot, I think.

    • astroian says:

      It is in fact the same Voyager 1 that captured the Pale Blue Dot photo as Voyager journeyed out of the solar system in 1990. Carl Sagan specifically requested that NASA take the image once the spacecraft was on the edge of the solar system. The actual image was taken from over 3 billion miles away!

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