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Voyager has left the “building”

September 18, 2013 - Art Smith
Last week NASA announced that Voyager 1 had left the solar system, the first man made object to leave the “neighborhood” we call home.

It took the spacecraft 36 years and 12 billion miles to get there. Along the way, it, and a twin called Voyager 2, has studied Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune on a cosmic trip through the galaxy. The spacecraft is now speeding through interstellar space at a speed of about 11 miles per second.

The spacecrafts are still functional and are still sending data back to earth. Voyager 2 is about three years behind Voyager 1 and will also leave the solar system.

A lot has changed since they launched 36 years ago, since final designs on the crafts would have been completed around 1975. There are a lot of technology on Voyager by today’s standards seem quaint. For example, the computers on board can handle 8,000 lines of instructions per second. Your iPhone can handle 14 billion.

The camera on board the craft we shut off in 1990 to save power; they were so far away there wasn’t anything else to see anyway. Even if they could be turned back on, the software and computers no longer exist on earth to process the images.

For storage, the crafts use an 8-track recorder. Yes, an 8-track, you know, like what you had in your 1970s era car.

The most interesting thing on the Voyager I is a record, yes a record. The disks are gold plated, but otherwise look very much like the vinyl disks many of us played in college. The “albums” are actually aboard both spacecrafts. The records contain both images of earth and the sounds of the planet, including the music of Beethoven, Mozart and even Chuck Berry. The record “kit” includes a stylus as well as graphical instructions on how to build a simple playback machine. The records are intended for whatever civilizations that may live beyond the reaches of our own solar system.

If they find the craft someday, they will be amazed how crafty mankind was to be able to launch a craft and have it leave the solar system using such antiquated technology.


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