I will not leave Voyager until it ceases to exist. Or until I cease to.
August 4, 2017 11:40 AM   Subscribe

Well, this was a depressing bit:

"The mission quite possibly represents the end of an era of space exploration in which the main goal is observation rather than commercialization."
posted by tavella at 12:02 PM on August 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

‘‘I would be sitting in here at night sometimes when the Voyager mission was flying,’’ Esker Davis, project manager for the Saturn encounter, told David W. Swift, who published an oral history of the mission in 1997, after Davis’s death. ‘‘And my wife would call up and ask what I was doing. I said, ‘Just watching pictures come in, being the first person to see this picture.’ ’

Really interesting - thanks for posting.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:03 PM on August 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

NASA actually has a page with the status of the DSN and what satellites are currently using it. It's immensely interesting.

For instance, right now, Voyager 2 is communicating with the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Australia. The signal that they're receiving from Voyager 2, 17.10 billion km away, is -152.67 dBm (5.41 x 10^-22 kW) at 8.42 GHz for a grand total of 159 bits per second.

159 bits per second of data are being sent from outside the sun's magnetic influence, from interstellar space. LTE breaks at -120dBm.

Bask in how awesome a fucking miracle that is.
posted by Talez at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2017 [56 favorites]

This was heartwarming as hell. It also made me realize that our first generation ships will likely be remote ones...
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:21 PM on August 4, 2017

NASA also has a status page for the Voyager probes.

Voyager 1 is 13 billion miles away and we're still communicating. What an incredible mission to dedicate your life to. Too bad I practically failed my college course on machine programming.
posted by muddgirl at 12:24 PM on August 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

Voyager 1 is 13 billion miles away and we're still communicating.

At ~24 watts.... Your refrigerator lightbulb puts out more energy.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:29 PM on August 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

I will not leave Voyager until it ceases to exist. Or until I cease to.

Very tough to avoid a bad Harry Kim joke here.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:45 PM on August 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

Quiet Heroes of science. To thought!
posted by Oyéah at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

No Motion Picture snark?
posted by Melismata at 1:20 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

They had to fight pretty hard for the mission in the first place -- Congress had balked at the price tag initially, so they agreed to do a Jupiter/Saturn only mission for 50% of the budget, all the while designing the spacecraft so that it'd be able to complete the Grand Tour.

"Economic development of space" will begin in near-Earth orbit and on the moon, according to the president’s transition team, with ‘‘private lunar landers staking out de facto ‘property rights’ for Americans on the moon, by 2020.

I can see why the 80-year old engineer isn't that concerned about his mortality.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:23 PM on August 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

The software environment these things operate in is incredible. Incredibly simple CPUs, and then remarkably complex electronics so that every single bit counts.
posted by Nelson at 1:31 PM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Marvellous article, V-GER good.
posted by arcticseal at 2:10 PM on August 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

Idle thought: How much would the team raise if they did something like a Kickstarter? There's such a deep well of affection for this project.
posted by clawsoon at 2:33 PM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I love it so much that these probes are still going and sending back data. A grand plan and engineering done right.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:45 PM on August 4, 2017

V'Ger must evolve. Its knowledge has reached the limits of this universe and it must evolve. What it requires of its god, doctor, is the answer to its question, "Is there nothing more"?
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:16 PM on August 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

I learned programming by doing this kind of programming, because in the late 1970's the only computers available to mere private individuals were on this scale and the only way to get such a computer to do anything useful is to be very clever. The anecdote where they sent a command, a bit got flipped and turned into a different instruction, and they had to figure out which bit and what different instruction so as to figure out how to undo it -- been there, done that, though obviously not from a billion miles away.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:18 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

"...Spinning the wheels of an eight-track tape recorder — the spacecrafts’ only data-storage option — generates a bit of additional heat."

enough heat to ignite a pioneer supertuner and burn down to the chasis a 1978 Mercury Capri in the driveway of my parents house the day after graduation.

Or so I'm told.
posted by shockingbluamp at 3:23 PM on August 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

enough heat to ignite a pioneer supertuner

To be fair, Pioneer was a generation earlier.
posted by Devonian at 4:27 PM on August 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

That discussion of the heliosphere turned the corner into psychadelia.

‘‘It’s like your home. You just found out the walls aren’t walls. They’re porous. I think it’s existential.’’
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:57 PM on August 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

That was an excellent read. Just got off the phone with the kiddo who says they're about to do the first power-on test of the crew module of the Orion, & this popped up. Synchronous. The pull quote is the post title, obviously -- these people have given their lives to a singularly important thing & it has become them in a way. The first sad part to me is how budget cuts have constrained their work to the point where only a third of the data being sent back is even being collected, much less analyzed.

I know they're running out of gas & that also saddens me a bit -- I'll probably outlive them, & they've been out there sending information back from somewhere for most of my living memory, so it makes no sense to train other young engineers the arcane & outdated software that runs these things, but... I also am sad about that being lost to history.

Hell, the first automatic T-shirt presses that I learned to operate runs on an obsolete CPU & all the guys that know how to program them are in their mid-sixties at least, & one day, those presses will all stop printing - not because the metal & bearings are worn out, but because the C-200-H won't be replaceable, or the ROM chip (don't unplug the battery!) will have no one to load a program on it if the power goes out for too long. I get that there's no point in passing on the increasingly outdated institutional knowledge. I have better records of the various program numbers for the various machine configs than the manufacturer does, these days. Not that I need that any more - one of those presses is in Mexico & the other is in Vietnam.

But it the case of the Voyagers, it really strikes me as a great loss, not just of the information we'll stop receiving from them, but of the way the thing was done by those who did it. Technology seems to be more expendable than all our old pre-technology information systems, that have remained remarkably sturdy -- like paper, printing & language.

But it is the way of all things - they'll be chunks of metal drifting aimlessly, essentially forever, long after we're all gone. I try not to anthropomorphize, but it's hard... I wish them godspeed, & a hearty thanks to those at the Voyager Mission Control who are still doing fantastic & important work.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:22 PM on August 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

budget cuts have constrained their work to the point where only a third of the data being sent back is even being collected, much less analyzed.
This is an obscenity.
posted by fullerine at 9:55 PM on August 4, 2017 [19 favorites]

I have a small Voyager story...possibly apocryphal except that it came from an acquaintance who worked for NASA at the time. Also possibly true but garbled by my brain in the years since he told it to me. Here goes...

He told that the team he worked on suggested to the project managers that image data be compressed before it was transmitted back to earth, thereby taking less time. By "compressed" he meant using RLE (run length encoding) which is a pretty simplistic and not highly effective way of reducing image size, though in images with lots of empty space (i.e. black) it might represent a measurable saving.

Anyway, management was pretty freaked out by the suggestion, concerned that if something went wrong, all of the image data (the Voyager missions' primary "science") would be corrupted and rendered into gibberish. Management finally agreed but only if there was a "kill switch" that could activated from earth to disable the compression. Of course, everything worked just as intended and the rest is now a bit of history.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 9:29 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I remember reading that story somewhere too -- it seems they used a difference mapping compression scheme, at least for the Uranus encounter.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:03 PM on August 5, 2017

Somewhat tangentially, I have in my possession a laser disc with an "archive" of images from various NASA missions, manned and unmanned. There's an awful lot of what appear to be Voyager images on there. Also stuff shot by astronauts on various Apollo missions. (How about photos of the improvised CO2 scrubber on Apollo 13?) Would love to find out if it's of any value to NASA or (I suppose) the National Archive. I still have a functioning LD player as well.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 3:17 PM on August 5, 2017

budget cuts have constrained their work
Is it budget cuts, or that the DSN has many more spacecraft to talk to these days?
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:23 AM on August 7, 2017

A little of both in a way. Though it's kind of outrageous that there isn't budget to build and staff stations to at least listen and record the data from these craft 24X7X365. This is what pisses me off so much about ostentatious displays of wealth; the money Paul Allen for example spent on his smaller (that's right, he has more than one) super-yacht would keep a team busy for forever listening to literally irreproducible data. Or the money the Cheeto is essentially flushing on security compared to every president before.)
posted by Mitheral at 12:53 PM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

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