Science News

NASA, PBS Celebrate Voyagers’ 40th Anniversary

It has been 40 years since the twin Voyager spacecraft embarked on their mission to delve deeper into the universe, carrying the music of planet Earth.

Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Voyager 2, which is now 11 billion miles away. It left Cape Canaveral on August 20, 1977, initially to explore giant planets Jupiter and Saturn, Lock Port Journal reports.

After a few weeks, Voyage 1 followed, and is now Earth’s farthest spacecraft at 13 billion miles away. It is also this world’s only craft to reach interstellar space, or the vast expanse of emptiness between star systems. Voyager 2 is expected to arrive at the same point in the next few years.

Each craft has aboard it a 12-inch, gold-plated copper phonograph record that contains messages from Earth at the time, including sounds of chirping crickets, a baby’s cry, wind and rain, Solomon Island panpipes, African pygmy songs, greetings in dozens of languages, and Beethoven’s Fifth. There are also over 100 electronic images depicting 20th century life here.

As a celebration of the Voyagers’ success, NASA is sending out tweets and stills of images the spacecraft have captured from 1979 through the 1980s.

PBS is likewise paying tribute by airing a documentary entitled, “The Farthest – Voyager in Space.” The documentary describes the scenes that went on in the Voyagers’ planning and launch, including interviews with long-retired members of the original team that put the missions together. There’s also a look at the late astronomer Carl Sagan in the 1980 PBS show, “Cosmos.”

Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist who joined Voyager’s imaging team in 1980, says these missions are right up there with the moon landing. “I consider Voyager to be the Apollo 11 of the planetary exploration program. It has that kind of iconic stature.”

It was Sagan who managed to get the phonograph records on the Voyagers, which were the audio version of plaques Sagan and others created for Pioneers 10 and 11 in the early 1970s. NASA estimates that the records will last more than 3 billion years, maybe even outliving human civilization.

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