Voyager Sails Out of the Solar System

Artist's concept of Voyager 1. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s concept of Voyager 1. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Ladies and gentlemen, Voyager 1 hasn’t just left the building. After 36 years, the spacecraft has now left the solar system.

When Voyager 1 and 2 launched in 1977, Jimmy Carter was president. Ted Turner was suspended from baseball for a year. The original Star Trek series had ended eight years earlier. And Star Trek Next Generation wouldn’t debut for another ten years.

Voyager 1 let NASA do some spectacular science in those three dozen years. Among other things, the spacecraft sent back measurements and amazing images of Jupiter and Saturn. It helped scientists study the plasma, or ionized gas, at the edge of the solar system. And, on a more philosophical note, the spacecraft’s “pale blue dot” image from 1990 reminds us how tiny Earth is in the vastness of space.

The spacecraft also carries a “golden record.” The gold-plated copper disk contains sounds and images of Earth, along with greetings in 55 languages and data on Earth’s location.

I think it was humorist Dave Barry who questioned whether we really want any hostile aliens to know where we are. And now they’ll also get all that data stored on the spacecraft’s glitzy 8-track tape.

Anyway, just two years after Voyager 1 launched, it came back to haunt Earth in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Granted, that was fiction, but still, you have to wonder. That movie’s director, Robert Wise, also directed the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, as well as The Sound of Music. As Voyager 1 continues to sail beyond the solar system, I find myself remembering that movie’s famous quip: “Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.”

Without any disrespect to the late Mr. Wise, I personally prefer J.J. Abrams’ more recent Star Trek movies. My own view is that William Shatner came off as too egotistical and unbelievable in his “God’s gift to woman” portrayal of Kirk. Chris Pine is much more likable in the role, and even the arrogant bits are all done with a wink to the audience. And yes, I already have a review copy of the just-released DVD for Star Trek: Into Darkness. I’ll use it for research on writing projects—and also for enjoyment.

So, so long Voyager 1. If aliens out there do find you, it will be interesting to see if they bother playing the golden record. “Hello from the children of planet Earth.”

Voyager's signal as recorded by Earth radio telescopes. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF/ . See http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/multimedia/pia17047.html#.UjMYEvvD_4g

Voyager’s signal as recorded by Earth radio telescopes. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF/ . See http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/multimedia/pia17047.html#.UjMYEvvD_4g

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