These legendary probes, which have multiplied records and forever changed the general public’s view of space, are coming to the end of their breath and will be placed in an artificial coma. The end of an era!
In the entire history of aerospace, there are very few craft as iconic as NASA’s Voyager probes. These two machines have literally pushed the limits of space exploration by venturing further from Earth than any other human machine, but their legendary journey is now coming to an end.
Indeed, according to the Scientific American, NASA has announced that it will begin to let Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 go. their energy budget is therefore falling visibly.
The Voyagers arrive out of breath
According to NASA, the two probes have been losing about 4 watts per year for some time now. And the situation begins to become critical. NASA is therefore forced to make concessions by reducing the power supply to the bare minimum. This means that some instruments will be shut down once and for all; hopefully this will grant a reprieve to the most important tools to extend their life to the very limit.
With a lot of luck, this couple will therefore be able to benefit from a reprieve until 2030. But that seems more improbable. The most likely outcome is that these two craft will breathe their last by the end of the decade, marking the end of one of the most remarkable adventures in the history of space exploration.
An epic without equal in the history of aerospace
If the Voyagers marked their era to such an extent, it is because they simply swept away all the expectations of engineers and astronomers. Indeed, these two machines launched in 1977 were only supposed to last… four short years! “We have already exceeded the warranty on these damn machines ten times,” breathes physicist Ralph McNutt.
And this exceptional longevity has allowed them to mark history on several occasions. This iconic couple, and in particular Voyager 1, can indeed be proud of a resplendent CV. In particular, we owe them a large number of first-rate discoveries on Saturn and Jupiter, the two gas giants of our solar system.
But if the Voyagers are so famous, it is above all because they bear their name particularly well. Voyager 1, in particular, has built a reputation as a prolific explorer by going far beyond Jupiter. In 1998, he snatched the distance record from Earth; never has a man-made object traveled so far from its cradle, not even the famous Pioneer 10. And the least we can say is that this record is not ready to fall.
In 2012, the machine passed to posterity by becoming the first machine to cross the limit of the heliosphere, that is to say the border which delimits the zone of gravitational influence of the sun. Voyager 1 thus became the very first spacecraft to venture into interstellar space. A long list of engineering feats, in short; but it is not only the scientists and technicians for whom this mission has been very important.
A major impact on the collective imagination
In 1990, Voyager-1 distinguished itself with a series of breathtaking photos. So
Located at the edge of the solar system, more than a billion kilometers behind the orbit of Pluto, the probe turned around to take images that have since passed on to posterity.
She thus produced the first “family photos” of the solar system, where you could see all the planets from the outside. And these legendary shots, where all of humanity was gathered in a few pixels, have had a huge impact on the collective imagination.
These moving images particularly inspired Carl Sagan, one of the giants of modern astronomy, who split a line full of poetry and today famous. It is to him that we owe the famous expression “pale blue dot” (“a pale blue dot”), in reference to the appearance of the Earth which appears tiny and lost in the middle of the sidereal void.
Through these images and this formula, Voyager 1 has enabled millions of people to become aware of the immensity of the cosmos, and by extension, to put into perspective the status of our civilization, which is as exceptional as it is fragile and insignificant on the scale of the universe. Enough to instantly cement its place in the pantheon of space missions.
Traveling will leave with its head held high
But it would be almost insulting to limit Voyager’s myriad contributions to these exploits. With hindsight, this is without a doubt one of the most important missions ever undertaken by NASA, both in purely scientific terms and for the collective imagination. Machines so iconic are rare, and each generation can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand. It will therefore be appropriate to honor these legendary probes as it should be before the end of their sensational epic.
The end may be near, but at least the Voyagers can leave with peace of mind. With a whole new generation of state-of-the-art instruments, such as the famous JWST which will soon unveil its first images, astronomy is in good hands… but no one will forget the first interstellar fighters who paved the way for all this progress. !