The Voyagers

The Voyagers mission control Forty years ago, the two Voyager spacecraft left Earth to begin one of the most rewarding voyages of human discovery ever to have been undertaken. Project Scientist Ed Stone recounts his treasured moments from the mission. wo Voyager spacecraft were launched on humankind’s longest journeys in T1977. At that time, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were lined up so that the gravity assist of each planetary flyby could serve as a slingshot to speed a spacecraft on its way past all four giant planets in just 12 years rather than 30. This special planetary alignment occurs only every 176 years, and Gary Flandro, a Caltech graduate student working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the summer of 1965, found that the outer planets would align in the late 1970s. This led to a decade of planning and construction that eventually culminated in two Mini Cooper-sized spacecraft being launched into the Solar System: Voyager 2 on 20 August 1977 and Fig. 1 | Professor Ed Stone in front of a replica of one of the Voyager spacecraft (left) and a Voyager Voyager 1 two weeks later. image of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io (right). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (left); US Geological Survey/ The planetary encounters were the Science Photo Library (right) highlights for me personally as Voyager project scientist (Fig. 1, left). We knew we were on unequalled journeys of discovery, and every day we saw and learned new Io with respect to background stars. It was ago. The distance to the boundary of the things. Between the two Voyagers, we had six 9 March 1979, the final scheduled press heliosphere was unknown and we did not planetary encounters (Voyager 2 visited all conference for the Jupiter encounter had know if Voyager 1 would still be operating four giant planets, whereas Voyager 1 visited already taken place the day before, and I when it entered interstellar space. Fortunately, only Jupiter and Saturn). We developed a remember it being a quiet Friday afternoon the boundary was close enough for us to daily routine to take the public along on the at JPL. But then Andy Collins from the observe it. On 25 August 2012, after a 35-year encounters nearly in real time, before there imaging team told me “you’ve got to see journey, Voyager 1 became the first human was an Internet. The science team would this’’. We went to see Linda and saw Io with made object to enter interstellar space. In a meet early each afternoon to discuss the latest a protruding feature that could only be a few years, Voyager 2 will join Voyager 1 in observations and various explanations and volcanic plume extending more than one exploring nearby interstellar space. As they interpretations of the data. This process was a hundred miles above the surface. near the end of their operational life, we will form of real-time peer review, which was very This was the first time we had direct begin to power down heaters and instruments exciting. Once the meeting ended, I would evidence of active volcanoes existing as the electrical power source continues its meet with the lead investigators to decide anywhere other than on Earth. Jupiter’s slow decline. what graphics to develop overnight for release moon Io (Fig. 1, right) is much smaller than When there is no longer enough power during the press conference the following Earth, but its volcanic activity is ten times for the spacecraft, the two Voyagers will be morning. At the same time, the imaging greater. This surprise from the first Voyager our silent ambassadors, orbiting the centre team would choose images for the overnight encounter serves as a bookend for the many of the Milky Way every 225 million years for production of prints for distribution to the unexpected planetary discoveries that billions of years and carrying golden records media present at the press conference. culminated with Neptune’s moon Triton, the that are time capsules of the world that At 10:00 the next morning we would present other bookend. Our last planetary close-up launched them on their epic journeys. Their our results to the reporters gathered at JPL. view revealed that Triton has two active success is due to exceptional engineering, We would then start the cycle again with geysers erupting from an icy surface that is transformative science and extraordinary another science meeting that afternoon. only 38 degrees above absolute zero. inspiration. For many of us it has been the Among all of the wonders that the Following the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune journey of a lifetime. ❐ Voyagers have shown us, if I had to pick and Triton in 1989, the final portrait of one of those that greatly astonished me and the Solar System and the 'pale blue dot' Ed Stone signalled a transformation of our perspective photograph by Voyager 1 in 1990, the Space Radiation Laboratory, California Institute of of the Solar System, it was the discovery of Voyagers continued their journeys to the edge Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA. eight active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io. of the heliospheric bubble that envelops the e-mail: Linda Morabito, an optical navigator, had Sun and all of the planets. Outside the bubble Published online: 1 December 2017 spotted something unusual while looking lies interstellar space, containing matter from through images showing the position of supernovae that exploded millions of years NaturE aS troNomy | VOL 1 | DECEMBER 2017 | 896 | © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved. Nature Astronomy Springer Journals

The Voyagers

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Nature Publishing Group UK
Copyright © 2017 by The Author(s)
Physics; Physics, general; Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology
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