Voyage On, Voyager
June 20, 2022 7:51 PM   Subscribe

Launched in 1977, Voyagers 1 and 2 took advantage of.a rare planetary alignment to send a probe past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Originally designed to last four years, they are now the furthest man-made objects from Earth, now traveling in interstellar space. After 45 years, however, systems on the spacecraft are being powered down, in an effort to conserve power into the next decade. A bittersweet ending to an amazing mission.
posted by MrGuilt (65 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Literally NOT an ending but a deliberately planned prolonging. They're going to keep collecting the data they can as long as they can, and that means losing some capacities to preserve others.

This is not a wake. It is a retirement party welcoming hard workers into the next phase of their lives.
posted by hippybear at 8:03 PM on June 20 [62 favorites]


Well, for me it hits like hearing about the death of an elderly relative I never truly thought would ever die simply because they've been with me my whole life.

Time to listen to my favorite track from the Golden Record. It's the "Peruvian wedding song", a song which sounds too sad and plaintive for a wedding song, as if the girl who is singing it is thinking about what she is leaving behind, and the long journey of the rest of her new life.

Oh Voyager!
posted by gwint at 8:08 PM on June 20 [7 favorites]


“We're at 44 and a half years,” says Ralph McNutt, a physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), who has devoted much of his career to the Voyagers. “So we've done 10 times the warranty on the darn things.”

Wow.

I was trying to remember where and when Voyagers 1 and 2 were as I've followed them on and off through my life, and this JPL timeline is super handy for that.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:11 PM on June 20 [7 favorites]


I'm forever jealous of the Voyager. The things it's seen, the things it will see.
posted by Toddles at 9:03 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]




I remember a channel on cable that was getting a feed from NASA of pics from Voyager 2 as they were coming in from freaking Neptune. I kept that channel on as much as possible. All these years later and it’s still an amazing accomplishment. The photos are still breathtaking. The Voyager missions are one of the biggest scientific accomplishments ever. They were not only successful, they also proved the effectiveness of a great many things. We know RTGs will function well for decades in space. Gravity assists are now used routinely on deep space missions. Every deep space mission is still amazing (hello New Horizons!) but Voyager lit the fuse, and anyone who was around when they were returning photos will always be fond of the probes.
posted by azpenguin at 9:32 PM on June 20 [26 favorites]


Metafilter: anyone who was around when they were returning photos will always be fond of the probes

Jk folks, this is amazing and I'm learning so much new (to me) history from the links. That JPL timeline is awesome, thanks.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 9:51 PM on June 20 [1 favorite]


What an amazing story. Thrilling. And…. With no microprocessors.

It was brilliant, perfect, and beautiful that the first Star Trek movie paid homage to — no, was centered on — the Voyagers. Safe travels, Commander Decker.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 10:49 PM on June 20 [6 favorites]


The probes are about 20 light hours from Earth. This blows my mind.
posted by vacapinta at 11:12 PM on June 20 [7 favorites]


Maybe there's still a chance it will find my TV remote.

Vale Voyager.
posted by adept256 at 2:47 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


Learn all that is learnable, and return that knowledge to your creator. Be kind to us carbon units on the way back.
posted by credulous at 3:19 AM on June 21 [5 favorites]


"Unless... you're not God, but the remains of a computerized space probe that collided with God!"

Holy crap that episode was twenty years ago. And Voyager I hadn't even crossed the termination shock yet when it first aired.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:40 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


Voyager 2's launch, captured in the greatest prepared live shot in TV history.
posted by Major Clanger at 4:27 AM on June 21 [26 favorites]






The Farthest -- Voyager in Space
Launched in 1977, NASA’s epic Voyager missions revolutionized our understanding of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their spectacular moons and rings. In 2012, Voyager 1 left our solar system and ushered humanity into the interstellar age. (PBS)
posted by mikelieman at 4:52 AM on June 21


Just this weekend I was talking to a young relative and being enthusiastic about the fact that Voyager has left the heliosphere.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:12 AM on June 21


I think occasionally about the Voyagers running on only 69.63 KB of memory each. A testament to the power and potential of comparatively primitive computing.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:13 AM on June 21 [7 favorites]


The Voyagers are a stark reminder of how far away even the closest stars are. It's quite likely no aliens have visited us (that we know of) because it's just wildly impractical. But maybe, just maybe in some distant future someone will find one of them and know that we're here.
posted by tommasz at 6:15 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


My best remembered coverage of Voyager was a Sunday afternoon CBC Radio documentary on the Saturn flyby. It included press conference announcements and the awe of scientists and engineers in reaction to the images as they downloaded. If only I could have better appreciated how great it was to be a 15 year old nerd.
posted by brachiopod at 6:21 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


Really enjoyed the article, thank you. I remember hearing about Voyager I crossing the threshold, and then I forgot all about it.
posted by Glinn at 6:21 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


The aliens are still waiting for us to Send More Chuck Berry.
posted by jonp72 at 6:23 AM on June 21


"Dr. Chandra, will I dream?"
"I don't know."



I still remember being a kid and seeing those shots of Jupiter and Saturn, and later Uranus and Neptune. I had posters on my walls of some of them, like the giant nerd I was.

I don't know that I have the type of brain to really appreciate the kind of science it's doing now, out there in the void, but those beautiful color shots of the gas giants will stick with me forever.
posted by bondcliff at 6:51 AM on June 21 [5 favorites]


Just as long as the Psychlos don't recover one of 'em, we're good.

Yes, the movie was terrible. Yes, the author (if he was who actually wrote it) is problematic, to say the least. Yeah, yeah, Dianetics, Scientology, blah blah woof woof. But there's a great story in that book, somewhere. Was It a Mistake to Broadcast Earth Coordinates on the Voyager Spacecraft?
posted by Rash at 7:03 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


This one of those rare things that make me proud of the human race and also a little sad because of crouton-petting (brave lonely lil Voyagers 1 & 2!).
posted by Kitteh at 7:05 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


*patiently waits for Jon Bois to build them into the 17776 universe*
posted by deezil at 7:13 AM on June 21 [3 favorites]


..with no microprocessors.

It was an amazing time, right? We were on the verge of the digital revolution but there wasn't time to wait.

The Golden Record has always been a source of fascination to me. What did they put on there, and why, and how was it done? About 5 years ago, on the 40th anniversary of the launches, Ron Barry got a hold of the master tape used to make the record and pretended he was an alien trying to decode it.

The whole process is extremely interesting, but the final result is mind-blowing. I still pretend I'm an alien seeing this for the first time, probably because I wish this would happen to us here on Earth in my lifetime. The first 1/3 of Contact (book or movie take your pick) is like this for me as well. Of course, the same person was behind both.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:32 AM on June 21 [5 favorites]


That was one of the best general audience science articles I've read. This level of knowledge and care is what I wish we could get from all science journalism.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:47 AM on June 21 [3 favorites]


Was It a Mistake to Broadcast Earth Coordinates on the Voyager Spacecraft?

If there are evil races out there with bad hair and a penchant for platform shoes, our space probes are the least of our worries. They're tiny and almost unnoticeable and moving veeeery slooooowly. In the meantime, we're constantly dumping at least gigawatts of radio/tv/network traffic that's flying away at lightspeed, and anyone that detects it can use it to locate us.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:01 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


Wow, the coordinate picture was created by Frank Drake, he of the Drake Equation!
posted by scolbath at 8:05 AM on June 21


From the wikipedia page on the golden record:

« Sagan's team wanted to include the Beatles song "Here Comes the Sun" on the record, but the record company EMI, which held the copyrights, declined. »
posted by fruitslinger at 8:12 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


My question is… How exactly is it communicating with us? Radio yes, but what is the power of the transmission. I can’t believe it is very high, so how do we isolate and pick up this signal? I am amazed that we can still hear it from way out there in space…
posted by njohnson23 at 8:50 AM on June 21


Several large radio dishes aimed toward them. And their signals are directed toward Earth.

We observe much more distant/faint radio sources.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:02 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


You can see the status of the Deep Space Network in real time. As I type this, Canberra is actually talking to Voyager 2!
posted by scolbath at 9:06 AM on June 21 [6 favorites]


How exactly is it communicating with us? Radio yes, but what is the power of the transmission. I can’t believe it is very high, so how do we isolate and pick up this signal?

The signal that reaches earth is extremely, extremely faint. According to NASA, the signal that reaches earth is “one-tenth of a billionth-trillionth” of a watt. There is a network of absolutely massive dish antennas around the earth, because you need a big antenna to be able to catch the data. The other thing is that the scientists know where the Voyager craft are and they know where to look for the signal. Fun thing - you can look at what Deep Space Network is getting in real time here. Currently in Canberra, Australia they’re getting data from Voyager 2 at 160 bits per second. They’re also communicating with several other craft right now.
posted by azpenguin at 9:10 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


what is the power of the transmission

"Voyager 1 has a 22.4-Watt transmitter – something equivalent to a refrigerator light bulb"
posted by neuron at 9:23 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


Funny I was just going down that rabbit hole having remembered reading about it in a 1989 Sciam article. This is a good explainer of the comms systems. The DSN antenna in Canberra was upgraded recently so it could transmit successfully, given Voyager 2's faulty tracking-loop capacitor that requires engineers to correct for the spacecraft's predicted temperature and Doppler shift.

Also there are multiple layers of encoding and error correction including the then-experimental Reed-Solomon encoding which would eventually go to market in the compact disc format.

You can get pretty far with a narrow bandwidth low-bitrate signal with convolutional error encoding. Amateur radio peeps use the WSPR mode to send messages around the world with only a few milliwatts.
posted by credulous at 9:31 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


I lived a block from a university library until age 24. I read almost all of Scientific American going back to about 1960 onward until the magazine dumbed down in the 1990s (and I switched to American Scientist). My all time favorite SA article is the 1986 Engineering Voyager 2's Encounter with Uranus (purchase required, alas).

My all time 2nd favorite SA article is The Aluminum Beverage Can from 1994.
posted by neuron at 9:31 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


See you on the flip side V'ger!
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 9:51 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


I’m curious about the “no microprocessors” quote from the original article and repeated several times in the comments. Descriptions like this one of the CCS describe something that seems to meet all the requirements for a basic (minimal) microprocessor. Are they using some other definition of microprocessor? The achievements are great enough that I don’t see a need for exaggeration. What am I missing?
posted by doctord at 9:59 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


A microprocessor contains the ALU, registers, and control logic in a single package. The CCS sounds more like a 4-bit minicomputer, which all had discrete components like the 74181.

One similarity to microprocessors is that Voyager used volatile memory (CMOS), which is a lot less volatile if you connect the power supply directly to a radioisotope thermoelectric generator.
posted by credulous at 10:25 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


The best Voyager fanfic, of course, is National Treasure Jon Bois's Football 17776.
posted by dmd at 10:26 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


my battery is low
and it's getting dark

... i guess i will switch to power saving mode
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:36 AM on June 21




“I read almost all of Scientific American going back to about 1960 onward until the magazine dumbed down in the 1990s...”

Me, too. I subscribed through most of the 80s.

On Twitter recently I saw someone compare it to Omni, which saddened me. Not only wasn't it like the sensationalist and oft-dubious Omni, it wasn't even much like Popular Science. Prior to the 90s, its design, layout, and editorial voice were more like a research journal than not, albeit oriented toward an educated general audience.

It was sad to watch it degrade, which is why I found this article such a pleasant surprise. It didn't dumb-down the topic even as it attempted to explain stuff that a general audience mostly wouldn't know. It explained things clearly, without the typical incoherencies that reveal a writer's lack of science education.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:59 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


One of my favorite memories of my Dad involves Voyager-via-Star-Trek.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:12 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


I'm very proud of work done by our graduate student with Voyager data - it was on the cover of Nature Astronomy in 2021 August. (The gorgeous cover design was done by a former grad student, who decided to go into astronomy/art.) The instrument we used should stay active and return data for several more years, at least as far as the recent plans went.

If you're lucky enough to visit JPL, you should see their downlink animation - a cascade of lights that turn on to show data being received in real time from the various missions they manage around the solar system. When it's one of the Mars missions, it's a flood of lights blinking on and off - data pouring in. When it's Voyager, it's just a thin trickle of lights, sparse and slow.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:45 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


(I meant to add, what a lovely article.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:49 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


Hey, RedOrGreen, good to see you!
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:51 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


Man, I have got to stop crying over space probes.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:07 PM on June 21 [6 favorites]


It's hard to overstate the improvement in the quality of coffee table books of the planets we got thanks to the Voyager images. Before it was blurry crap. After it was quite breathtaking.
posted by wierdo at 12:27 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


The article was so so good! Many thanks for sharing, MrGuilt!
posted by Nieshka at 12:40 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


The article was so so good! Many thanks for sharing, MrGuilt!

Seconded - this bit especially is something to chew over, I think:

The Voyagers' designers could not rely on thousands of lines of code to help operate the spacecraft. “On the whole,” Krimigis says, “I think the mission lasted so long because almost everything was hardwired. Today's engineers don't know how to do this. I don't know if it's even possible to build such a simple spacecraft [now]. Voyager is the last of its kind.”
posted by ryanshepard at 12:52 PM on June 21 [2 favorites]


If you're really curious about the Voyager encodings, Daniel Estévez has it covered. They start with a 16 GB IQ encoded recording from the Green Bank Telescope, process it in gnuradio and a jupyter notebook, and eventually dump out the raw bits (but lack the code book to make sense of them). In that post they wrote that there is no Reed-Solomon, although there is a follow-up that deduces the RS parameters and decodes the frames, and another followup with a longer, but lower-quality recording.

As an occasionally SDR dabbler, these dense flow graphs and so much math are really fascinating, yet so far away from my simple experiments in signal processing.
posted by autopilot at 1:01 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


For the more anthropomorphic view on Voyager (similar to too-ticky and moofoo comments), I always cry re-reading the now-defunct tumblr post by swanjolras from 2014 (archived link):
gosh but like we spent hundreds of years looking up at the stars and wondering “is there anybody out there” and hoping and guessing and imagining
because we as a species were so lonely and we wanted friends so bad, we wanted to meet other species and we wanted to talk to them and we wanted to learn from them and to stop being the only people in the universe
and we started realizing that things were maybe not going so good for us— we got scared that we were going to blow each other up, we got scared that we were going to break our planet permanently, we got scared that in a hundred years we were all going to be dead and gone and even if there were other people out there, we’d never get to meet them

and then
we built robots?

and we gave them names and we gave them brains made out of silicon and we pretended they were people and we told them hey you wanna go exploring, and of course they did, because we had made them in our own image
and maybe in a hundred years we won’t be around any more, maybe yeah the planet will be a mess and we’ll all be dead, and if other people come from the stars we won’t be around to meet them and say hi! how are you! we’re people, too! you’re not alone any more!, maybe we’ll be gone

but we built robots, who have beat-up hulls and metal brains, and who have names; and if the other people come and say, who were these people? what were they like?
the robots can say, when they made us, they called us discovery; they called us curiosity; they called us explorer; they called us spirit. they must have thought that was important.
and they told us to tell you hello.


#space tw // /// / #IT IS 9:50 PM AND I AM CRYING ABOUT ROBOTS
posted by autopilot at 1:10 PM on June 21 [12 favorites]


I always cry re-reading the now-defunct tumblr post by swanjolras

me too, autopilot. It gets me every single time and still I printed it and put it on my wall because it's so wonderful.
posted by martin q blank at 1:21 PM on June 21


the other one that does this to me is Safire's "In event of moon disaster" speech for Nixon. I'm not even going to look for a link because I'm already in tears just thinking about it.
posted by autopilot at 1:28 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


I hope it's not too gauche of me to link to my own response to Voyager from a few years ago.
posted by moonmilk at 2:57 PM on June 21 [3 favorites]


wait, we need to adjust the CO2 on the atmosphere composition image!
posted by Clowder of bats at 3:18 PM on June 21


Today's engineers don't know how to do this. I don't know if it's even possible to build such a simple spacecraft [now]. Voyager is the last of its kind.”

I don't know if you'd be able to hire an engineer fresh out of university who specialized in discrete component hardware (I suspect you can though the pool is pretty small). But there are certainly young people (and no so young people) doing discrete bare slate hardware hacking and repairing/restoring pretty much any product category you can think of from the last 100 years.

And there are all sorts of modern tools to help them out like circuit board design programs and CNC mill/drill hardware to produce one off circuit boards from those designs. Plus material science has progressed immensely in the last 50 years.

A modern design would be unlikely to copy Voyager exactly but could produce a modern version of the craft. If launch prices come down like M*sk hopes it's possible we'll see a steady stream of spacecraft with an ultra reliable design philosophy. Some of which may overtake Voyager for the farthest man made object.

Humans are capable of multi generational projects as shown by the Visingsö Oak Forest and Oxford's endowment forests. It would be great if we launched hundreds of designed to be long lived space craft over the next century with the goal of doing science out at the heliopause and beyond into the Oort cloud.
posted by Mitheral at 4:01 PM on June 21 [2 favorites]


But there are certainly young people (and no so young people) doing discrete bare slate hardware hacking and repairing/restoring pretty much any product category you can think of from the last 100 years.

The involvement of the young 20somethings I've met with basically everything that came before them is astonishing to me. I'm going on a campout this weekend and some kid who is 23 is bringing a restored old clockwork phonograph and a collection of 78s to play during a whiskey and cigar hour. I mean... that's nuts! Nobody I knew 30 years ago (when I was a similar age) was doing anything like caring about clocking phonographs. But the kiddos keep surprising me in all the best ways.
posted by hippybear at 4:43 PM on June 21 [3 favorites]


My all time 2nd favorite SA article is The Aluminum Beverage Can from 1994.
posted by neuron


The Ingenious Design of the Aluminum Beverage Can
posted by Pouteria at 5:44 PM on June 21


By no means the first time I've mentioned this but my favorite cut on the Golden record is Blind Willie Johnsons Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground..
posted by y2karl at 1:07 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


Voyager 2 would like to remind us all they've been shutting down for 30 years.

Tweet
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:09 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


came too late to make the golden record but Thinking Voyager 2 Type Things was released when Voyager 2 was just entering teenagerhood. This is the moment that we come alive, indeed.
posted by adekllny at 8:12 AM on June 22


« Older Critically Endangered As It Is   |   Did you have "Jumbo Floating Restaurant Sinks" on... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.