On September 12, 2013, Voyager 1, the farthest man-made object from Earth, left the solar system. But things weren’t always this way. Voyager 1 started with just an idea and a dream by NASA after a Grand Tour plan was proposed in the 1960s to study the outer planets of our solar system. In the early 70s, NASA began to work on this mission, ultimately culminating in the Voyager 1 launch on September 5, 1977.
Voyager 1’s primary mission was to study the outer Solar System, and was ultimately accomplished as the spacecraft encountered the Jovian system in 1979 and the Saturnian system in 1980, taking the first detailed photographs of the two planets and their moons. After its primary mission ended in November of 1980, Voyager continued to soar through the solar system, and as of August 22nd of this year, has been operating for 36 years, 11 months and 17 days.
The Voyager 1 spacecraft is currently 128.26 AU, or 11,922,511,800 miles, away from Earth. Tomorrow it’ll travel further, nearly 900,000 more miles, leading it closer to its next destination, the Oort Cloud, only 300 years of travel time away.
By today’s standards, the technology aboard Voyager 1 is as simplistic as you can get. Currently operating with just 70 kilobytes of memory on board, 240,000 times less than a 16GB iPhone 5, Voyager’s journey has taken it further than the wildest expectations of NASA and the scientists and dreamers that built the spacecraft.
On February 14, 1990, having completed its primary mission nearly ten years earlier, NASA gave Voyager 1 the command to turn around, point its cameras toward Earth and photograph the Solar System. By this point, the spacecraft had reached a distance of 3.7 billion miles from Earth and was traveling at a rate 40,000 miles per hour.
Of the 60 frames sent back to Earth from Voyager 1, one stands out above the rest. The photograph, named The Pale Blue Dot, puts our world in perspective.Earth is visible in the image as but a small, pale blue dot, taking up just 12% of a single pixel. The great astronomer Carl Sagan commented on this photo:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Feel small? Your one day in a sea of billions of days being lived – innumerable human experiences happening, goals being won or lost, life happening – might make you feel small and insignificant, but your one day can lead you magical places.
The operational capabilities of Voyager 1 are expected to stop functioning somewhere between 2025 to 2030, well before its scheduled arrival in the Oort cloud in around 300 years. But the spacecraft’s significance won’t end there. Voyager 1 carries with it a gold-plated audio-visual disc filled with images of Earth and its lifeforms, scientific information, spoken greetings from dignitaries, sounds of earth life, and music from around our world.
Voyager 1 launched with just 70 kilobytes of memory and a primary mission that ended just over three years after its launch. In 40,000 years, carrying with it the signs of the cultures of humanity, Voyager 1 will pass by its next star. The small, golden disc on a spacecraft launched on far outdated technology will be traveling long after you and I are gone, doing so one day at a time.
The way you look at the world and your own life will dictate whether your goals are visible and in your future, or lost in the darkness around you. Your perspective is everything. Always keep moving forward.