To Infinity… And Beyond!

“It calls back a time when there were flowers all over the Earth… and there were valleys. And there were plains of tall green grass that you could lie down in – you could go to sleep in. And there were blue skies, and there was fresh air… and there were things growing all over the place, not just in some domed enclosures blasted some millions of miles out in to space.” Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) Silent Running 1972

In a previous post, Message In A Bottle, I blogged about Voyager I on the cusp of leaving the solar system, and that it was inconclusive whether or not it had actually left yet. Unlike smaller things that we can see and touch, the boundaries of some things are very hard to determine. Probably one of the most difficult constituents of determining the boundary of something like our solar system, is actually defining what that boundary really is. Fortunately there are a lot of very smart people who have made all the technical decisions for us. And now it’s just the waiting game.

Well, the wait is over! According to this article, Voyager craft exits the Solar System, by Jonathan Amos, our baby is all grown up and has left the nest.

Confirmation of the probe’s exit from the heliosphere – the bubble of gas and magnetic fields originating from the Sun – was confirmed on Tuesday in a release by the American Geophysical Union

These are exciting times for space exploration, and in NASA‘s case, we accomplish so much with so very little. I am amazed by how much bang NASA can get for the half a penny per tax dollar. These women and men are doing wonderful things. Add to that the incredible accomplishments made by other folks such as SpaceX and we catch a glimmer of what our human minds are capable of. Me, I’d like to up that spending a bit, I would love to watch the first human walk on Mars.

However, hearkening back to Voyager I, I can’t help be feel a little melancholy at the thought of the solitude where she is at. It reminds me of the movie Silent Running, where a craft is sent off into the unknown. An unknown future with an unknown outcome. Voyager I could suffer from an incalculable number of deaths, yet for every second she lives on she is sending a message for us, “We are here, and we come in peace.” I hope we can live up to that. Now back to our regularly scheduled carnage at seemingly every location on the globe.

Peace and love.

Marv

Message In A Bottle

 “…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.”