Voyager: the greatest of all space missions

Voyager: the greatest of all space missions


In 1977 he began the mission two spacecraft that changed our understanding of the Solar system and will soon become our message into the unknown. Richard Hollingham with the BBC spoke about the legacy of the “Voyagers” 40 years after the launch and visited the place where was created the famous vehicles. Hereinafter in the first person.

On the first floor of a nondescript suburban office block, designed in beige colors, in Pasadena, California, history.

History happening here literally every day.

This is the control center of the mission at the jet propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where NASA monitors spacecraft Voyager. This becomes clear if you look at a homemade cardboard sign on a computer monitor, which reads as follows: “Critical equipment mission Voyager. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH!”.

It’s not like the control center one of the most ambitious and daring missions in the history of mankind. But it’s him.

Over the last 40 years the two spacecraft Voyager studied Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. They showed us the details of these strange worlds, hidden under the ice of the moon covered with volcanoes and covered with smog. These missions have changed our view of the Earth and, thanks to the Golden phonograph records affixed to the sides of the satellites, sent human culture to the stars.

Most importantly, both space Voyager is still working. Whenever “Voyager 1” sent to Earth signal, he does it from the far distance of all the objects that ever came out from the Ground.

“Voyager 1” left the Solar system in 2013 and (at the time of this writing) passed the 20 billion kilometers. “Voyager-2” moving along a different trajectory, is 17 billion kilometers. It might be easier to imagine it this way: a radio signal moving at the speed of light, reaches from the ground to the “Voyager-1” and back in 38 hours. “Voyager-2” it is about 30 hours.

These signals are received at the deep space network NASA — a giant satellite dish, scattered around the world and is designed to collect data from distant spacecraft. While I was watching, Manager of the mission, Enrique Medina causes a ground station near Canberra in Australia, to establish communication with “Voyager-2”. The spacecraft is so far away that the engineers had to build two receivers to catch the signal from the outskirts of the Solar system.

“The power of the transmitter on the spacecraft is about 12 watts,” says Medina. “When it works at its peak it is about 20 watt — like bulbs in the fridge.”

Think about it. I live in a rural area 40 miles from London and barely get a signal on your mobile phone. NASA can get a signal from a distance of 20 billion miles, is sent with 40-year-old 12-watt transmitter.

“Cease to wonder,” says Medina. “We are talking about the technology of the 1970-ies”.

While he speaks, the screen fills with numbers — new data from our avatars in deep space.

“People have always been explorers, pioneers,” says project scientist of the Voyager ed stone. “It’s just the recent history of research with the help of robotic devices. “Voyager-1″ now has to deal with the material that fills most of the Universe.”

Stone is a legend among scientists. In the eighty he led and leads the mission of Voyager at JPL from the very beginning of the design and construction of devices in 1972. Voyager is the basis of almost everything that I did,” he says. “His mission has given us a broad overview of everything that is there — wherever we looked, everywhere we find the diversity of nature.”

Another legend behind the missions of Voyager, the late Carl Sagan, who led the project to attach the gold plates to the sides of each spacecraft. By the mid-1970s, astrophysicist and astronomer at Cornell University became one of the most famous scientists in the world. Besides working on NASA missions, including the “Viking 1”, the first probe that successfully landed on Mars, he wrote popular science books and regularly participated in TV and radio programs.

With Golden plates Sagan played a major role in transforming what was essentially a scientific mission to a mission of artistic and cultural. Copper discs, designed for one billion years, reminiscent of vinyl records and played exactly the same needle that is included in engraved case. Conceived as a message from planet Earth to other civilizations, the recordings include speech, music, sounds, and images, encoded in the grooves.

“We tried to talk a little bit about what the Earth, the creatures that live on it, and, in particular, about the species that made this record,” says the artist Jon Lomberg, design Director of the project gold record. “Basic conditions were such that this message is not from NASA or the United States, and from the Earth, reflecting all the Land, not the nation or Agency which it was sent”.

But Sagan and Lamberga was at NASA they were given only six weeks from start to finish, to complete the project. “At the end of six weeks we had to provide them with a physical record,” says Lomberg. “It’s absurd”.

About a third of the music on the Golden disk owned by Western composers, including Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. However, they also tried to represent the music of the world. There was everything from the Azerbaijan musical instruments to songs of dedication of girls from Zaire. Perhaps it was the first collection of all music of the world.

Although Duke Ellington, Chuck berry and American gospel music were presented on the disc, Elvis Presley — who died shortly before the launch of “Voyager-2” — no.

“Actually, amazing to see what they put in there, from the standpoint of American music,” says Stephanie Nelson, Professor, California state University at Los Angeles and an expert on world music. “Basically, it’s black American music, which is very interesting.”

The music was the least controversial aspect of the entire project. Predecessors of Voyager, “Pioneers” 10 and 11 proudly bore a plaque on which was engraved a naked man and a woman. The crew of Voyager was hoping to include the image of a naked couple on a Golden disc.

“It seemed to me that it is the very essence of human nature,” says Lomberg, who spent many days in search of suitable images, which would not be pornographic or academic. He found the image of a pregnant woman. “It seemed that this is what you need, but NASA said no way!”.

“When I tell this to the audience, she laughs,” says Lomberg. “It seems so intimate, so human, that much funny.”

“Voyager 2” was launched from Cape Canaveral on 20 August 1977; “Voyager-1” — 5 September. While on Board the spacecraft there was no nudity, the choice of 1977 was not a coincidence.

“It was in this year he was able to fly past the four giant planets,” says stone. “We can launch the first spacecraft to Jupiter and Saturn, and if succeeded, the second would go to Uranus and Neptune”.

In addition to the help of cosmic apparatus, the position of the planets influenced the fertility rate at JPL. “I tell my daughters that their birth coincided with the parade of planets,” says Linda Spilker, who started her career with Voyager and now manages the Cassini mission to Saturn. “Everything was counted — a lot of children “Voyager” was born in the five years between Saturn and Uranus.”

In 1978, 18 months after launch, “the Voyager” 1 and 2 began the study of Jupiter, revealing his glowing clouds in unprecedented detail. The quality of the images from the onboard camera was wonderful.

“Every time there’s been a sighting, there was always something new,” says team leader visualization Harry hunt. A native of Imperial College London, hunt was the only senior British scientist on the mission. “History has changed”.

Some of the biggest scientific surprises came from satellites that Voyager was shown as something more than just inert pieces of stone. “To “Voyagers” the only active volcanoes known only on Earth,” says stone. “Then we flew by IO, a satellite of Jupiter the size of our moon, and it was 10 times more volcanic activity than on Earth.”

Voyager turned our terrestrial view of Solar system turned on its head. “Before Voyager, the only liquid oceans were here on Earth,” says stone. “Then we saw the satellite of Jupiter Europe with crackled surface, and realized that beneath its surface was a liquid ocean.”

Original archive images of the mission, now restricted to a dusty Cabinet in the back room at Queen Mary College in East London. When all images are digitized on a cardboard photo cards, no one is looking. But those first images were surprisingly high quality. In particular, a picture made upon reaching the “Voyager 1 spacecraft” Saturn in 1980.

“It was such a shock for us,” says hunt, looking through pictures of a rocky moon of Saturn, Mimas. “We called it the “Death Star””.

In the same year, when it was released the second movie “Star wars” “Empire strikes back”, scientists were struck by how this satellite is similar to the full battle station. Powerful conical piece was knocked out by a massive collision. “The impact was the strongest,” says hunt. “A little more and he would have broken the moon apart.”

But the surprises of the Saturn did not stop. Discovering new rings and identifying new satellites, the spacecraft Voyager has found a Titan with its thick petrochemical atmosphere and methane rain. Also they sent back made from a short distance pictures of Enceladus. This tiny Arctic world was the size of England and it was the most reflective body in the Solar system. Both satellites later investigated by the mission Cassini-Huygens, and now Enceladus is the best candidate for life.

“Each of the moons unique,” says Emily Lakdawalla, editor of the Planetary Society. Voyager has taught us that we need to go to Saturn to understand the nature of his companions.”

In November 1980, “Voyager 1” left the Saturn to go on a long journey from the Solar system. Nine months later, “Voyager 2” headed for the outer planets. In 1986 it reached Uranium, made the first images of this gas giant, its rings and discovered 10 new moons.

When the spacecraft reached its final planetary destination, Neptune, in 1989, moon again attracted the attention of scientists. The last object that he saw “Voyager 2”, was not the last appeal.

“Flying past Neptune’s moon Triton, we saw the erupting geysers of nitrogen,” says stone. “From time to time we find things on Earth, occurring throughout the Solar system.”

Heritage Voyager grew a few missions — and the mission Cassini-Huygens to Saturn, the probe “Galileo” and “Juno” to visit Jupiter, and others. Uranus or Neptune missions are not planned — and pictures of “Voyager-2” has remained the one and only.

Few expeditions in the history of mankind has brought so many scientific achievements as the twin probes Voyager. But we also owe much of their technological heritage.

“It was the first computer controlled spacecraft in history,” says stone. “He still flies himself, he works himself, checks himself and can switch to backup systems, too”.

We’re using technology left over from the Voyager every day. “Because the signals coming from deep space, so weak, we had to develop a coding system,” explains stone. “Cell phones and CD players rely on the same technology, but the coding was originally developed for sending things to space.” Similarly, the possibility of image processing embedded in smartphones, evolved from technology originally developed by engineers of Voyager.

And yet the most important moment for Voyager occurred on February 14, 1990. In this day of “Voyager-2” turned their cameras on the Ground to shoot the entire Solar system. View where the Earth was a single pixel, a “pale blue dot”, and which shows us our place in the cosmos.

“It’s a tiny thing, floating in space, the Earth with all life known to us,” says Lakdawalla. “It is scary when you look at this picture of Voyager on this ray of light in the darkness. Like the dot of a laser pointer. One event could wipe out all known life in the Universe. This precious image helps us understand how fragile and small our place in the Universe.”

In 2013, “Voyager 1” crossed the border between the space in which reigned the magnetic field of the Sun, and the space between the stars. “The sun creates this big bubble around the planet,” says stone. “It’s a shield that protects us from cosmic rays from outside — now we study how our bubble interacts with the material from other stars.”

“Voyager-1” continues to collect information about this void, and in the coming years, “Voyager 2” also will go beyond the Solar system. As he departs from a different angle, the data from the “Voyager-2” will give scientists understanding of the form of the solar bubble.

But time is running out. On the spacecraft, working of nuclear batteries with electricity produced from heat generated by the decay of plutonium. Every year it produces four watts less heat.

“The goal is to keep them flying as long as possible,” says program Manager of the Voyager Susie Dodd. “For 40 years one of the twins became worse to hear, and the other to see, so we need to be careful with them”.

“We disable the extra system,” she says. “Use only the tools that can accept data, where the apparatus may be — we don’t manage the cameras, because you can’t see anything, space is very, very dark.”

Part of the energy spent on it to keep the apparatus warm and not to cold tools.

Once in the next 10 years — “the Voyager” 1 and 2 are turned off. “I think it will be a very sad day for NASA and for humanity — it would be like to lose a grandparent or a close relative who lived a rich and full life,” she says. “One day, we will wait for a signal from Voyager and don’t get it”.

In a sense, however, the mission of Voyager would last forever. Possibly longer than human civilization.

“I would like to believe that someday in the future someone or something will find them, lose a gold record and look at that time already ancient, the civilization,” says Dodd. “Our Land has long been decay by the time, as the gold plate will find.”

Voyager will become our silent Ambassador in the milky Way,” adds stone. “They will rotate around the center of the galaxy billions of years”. But he doesn’t think satellites someone will find. Because the space is really empty. But, maybe that’s not the point. With time capsules from Earth of the mission of Voyager carry the world in 1977 in the distant future.

“The voyagers” made humanity immortal.