“…Take me out to the black.
Tell ’em I ain’t comin’ back.
Burn the land And boil the sea.
You can’t take the sky from me.” – Theme song from Firefly
“The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.” – Robert Heinlein
“In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.” – Neil Armstrong
Voyager 1 is having a hard time letting go. Launched in 1977, the NASA space probe’s mission was to study the outer solar system. Yet that mission was complete by 1980, and has since been on extended mission. Currently Voyager 1 is 123 AU from earth; an AU is an Astronomical Unit, and is an approximate average distance from the earth to the sun. Which makes Voyager 1 the furthest manmade object in space, and the reason I’m writing this blog entry is that, even as I type, it may officially be outside our solar system. I suppose at the outset this may not seem like much, or depending on the reader, nothing at all. But for me, and I would hope most folks, with a little reflection and thought this is pretty amazing. I enjoy hiking, and when I set out for a good exercise hike, I’m looking at five miles, maybe six if I’m feeling up to it. Voyager 1 is eleven billion miles from earth. Not only this, but Voyager 1 is traveling at 10.5 miles per second; pretty staggering really. That is almost too much to wrap your head around. Actually it is too much; I can’t even begin to honestly realize just how far away, and how fast that really is. I think the technical term is “a long damn way, and pretty damn fast”. But here’s where all the space opera movies, and TV shows start kicking in for me… I like to imagine how it would feel to be out there. Our sun would just be a really bright star, and I would, of course, be frozen instantly. Imagine the cold and desolation of being that separated from all that you’ve ever known. Imagine that one day our descendants will most likely be journeying along that trek.
Currently Voyager 1 is still operating, and recently completed a complicated maneuver. We are still able to communicate with Voyager 1, though a one-way message takes sixteen hours to travel between her and earth. When Voyager 1 was launched, the three radioisotope thermocouple generators (RTGs), powered by Plutonium-238, were producing 470 watts of power. That’s very little power to do all the amazing things Voyager 1 has done; like sending us the “pale blue dot” photograph that Carl Sagan spoke of. But this power won’t last, as the radioactive elements comprising the RTGs drops by half about every eighty-eight years. By the year 2025, the power will have dropped to the point that most of the systems will have to be turned off. At this point Voyager 1, our workhorse of a space probe, our stalwart gatherer of scientific data in our solar neighborhood will become a “message in a bottle” from us to whomever may scoop it out of the cosmic tidal froth. Who knows who may listen to the “golden record”, if anyone. But I can sure imagine it.
“Captain, we have something on our scanners.”
“Put it on the screen Spock.”
“Scanners have detected etchings of a certain pattern that appear to be able to be translated to audio. It appears to be a message from a ‘Johnny B. Goode’. Fascinating.”