NASA's voyager spacecraft still sending data back to Earth after 40 years in operation

By Reuters   August 10, 2017 | 05:15 pm PT
The two spacecraft are still sending data back to Earth despite their vast distance, setting space exploration milestones.

NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are coming up on their 40-year anniversaries of exploration this August and September.

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft were launched in 1977 to take advantage of an alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune that made it possible to use gravitational assists to explore the planets in a much shorter time. This alignment, discovered by Gary Flandro, who was a doctoral student at Caltech in 1965, appears once every 175 years.

Voyager 2 was launched on August 20, 1977. It was the only spacecraft that conducted flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977. It took a shorter but faster trajectory that used a gravity assist at Saturn to take it out of the solar system. Each spacecraft carries a gold-plated record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages for any intelligent extraterrestrial life that might find them.

"None of us knew, when we launched 40 years ago, that anything would still be working, and continuing on this pioneering journey," Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, California said in a press release. "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."

In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to cross into interstellar space. It is still transmitting data at a staggering distance of almost 13 billion miles away from Earth.

Voyager 2 is in the space known as heliosheath, almost 11 million miles from Earth. It is expected to enter interstellar space in the next few years.

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