Voyage Into The Unknown
It’s been officially confirmed by NASA: Voyager 1 is the first man-made spacecraft to cross the limits of our Solar System, and venture into the unexplored and mysterious interstellar space. When it was launched on September the 5th, 1977, its primary mission was to conduct a close-up research of outer planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and the moons of these planets. Voyager 1 has a twin, the Voyager 2, which is identical in construction. Weighing at around 1,500 pounds, both spacecrafts possess the equipment to conduct 10 specific experiments. Each Voyager consist of about 65,000 parts, implementing technology that might seem vastly outdated by today’s standards, such as a digital 8-track recorder, but it was cutting-edge at the time of the launch. Although their predicted lifespan was 5 years, they both outlasted that projection by 30 years.
Curiously enough, Voyager 1 was launched 16 days after its twin brother. The entire Voyager program was designed to take advantage of a unique formation of four giant planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. They were arranged in such a way that, using the planet’s gravity, spacecrafts were able to catapult themselves from planet to planet, while using up only a fraction of the fuel. In order to accomplish this feat, the probes were lauched on different trajectories, with Voyager 2 taking on a slower trajectory, because it could potentially visit all four planets, and Voyager 1 heading straight for Jupiter and Saturn, before continuing further into deep space. The scientists at NASA knew all along that Voyager 1 would overtake Voyager 2 in the Asteroid Belt, so they named it accordinly, knowing it would get there first, even though it was launched after Voyager 2.
Both Voyagers carry recorded messages on golden phonographic records, which are 12-inch gold-plated copper discs, containing images and sounds of nature, like the sound of waves crashing on the shore and images of various life forms on Earth, along with greetings in 55 languages and music from different eras and cultures. Its contents were selected by committee chaired by the late astronomer Carl Sagan. They are meant to be both a message to intelligent life and a symbolic time capsule of sorts. NASA provided a cartridge and a needle for alien species to play the records, but they would have to figure out how to build a record player and speakers first, because adding these aboard the spacecraft would have added too much bulk and weight.
Although Voyager 1 is 12 billion miles away from Earth, information is still being sent back and forth. This is possible by using radio waves, a system that could prove viable even well beyond the boundaries of the Solar System. The only problem is that it takes 16 hours for a message to reach Earth, a number that is increasing steadily as Voyager 1 keeps moving further into space. It will continue to do so until it runs out of plutonium, which is used to power it, in the year 2020, when engineers will start turning off its systems one by one. They started by turning off the cameras in 1980, to conserve power, but turned them back on in 1990, in order for Voyager 1 to take it last photos of our Solar System.