NASA officially approved the Voyager mission in 1972. It produced a bonanza of new science and the probes are still performing like champs.
As the first mission to fly by all four giant planets in the outer solar system, Voyager produced a bonanza of new science and the spacecraft are still performing like champs. Here are some facts you probably didn’t know about NASA’s Voyager spacecraft.
Voyager 2 Nearly Failed During Launch
The first probe to launch is Voyager 2. The craft got a “2” label because Voyager 1 would travel faster through space and overtake its twin.
Lift-off was almost perfect. But John Casani, the mission’s project manager, said in a PBS documentary film “The Farthest” that “things went crazy”.
NASA launched the probe on August 20, 1977, from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard a Titan-Centaur rocket which was shaking the spacecraft in such a way that scientists thought it was failing.
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Team members had sort of a mutiny at the time when the spacecraft went off and did what its programs told it to do but not what scientists thought. These shutdowns made the probe essentially refuse to talk to Earth.
Engineers didn’t program Voyager 2’s computer to handle the rocket’s twisting, shaking, and rattling on its way toward space so the system did not work properly. Engineers were anxious and people were curious to know whether they had lost the spacecraft.
This could have been the end of the mission, but fortunately, the person who coded Voyager 2 reestablished contact with the probe after several days, then patch its software as well as Voyager 1’s before launch.
Voyager Was Only Supposed To Survey Jupiter And Saturn
The original intention of the Voyager program was to study Jupiter and Saturn up-close for the first time during a specific time frame when the planets were close together. The mission was a huge success. It revealed the makeup of the planets and giving the rest of us beautiful photos to admire.
But as the mission went on, and with the achievement of all its objectives, the additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. This was irresistible to mission scientists and engineers at the Voyagers’ home at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
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In August 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago. Voyager 2 entered interstellar space on November 5, 2018.
Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network, or DSN.
Their two-planet mission became four and their five-year lifetimes stretched to 12 and is now about 44 years.
Voyager 1 Was Originally Part Of The Mariner 11 Program
When NASA first conceived of a “Grand Tour” of the solar system in the 1960s, the two Voyager space probes were originally planned to be part of the Mariner program. And they were thus initially named Mariner 11 and Mariner 12.
However, based on the lessons on solar radiation learned from the Mariner 10 program, as well as severe budget cuts, NASA designed the craft to be able to cope more effectively with the strong radiation fields around Jupiter.
Eventually, the design and specifications of the proposed craft started to deviate from the Mariner designs so radically that the proposed craft was later renamed the Voyager Program.
Not In The Plan
The Voyager mission brought us two legendary pictures named “Family Portrait” and the “Pale Blue Dot”. But NASA didn’t plan them as part of the original Voyager mission. In fact, the Voyager team turned down several requests to take the images. That’s because of limited engineering resources and potential danger to the cameras from pointing them close to the Sun.
It took eight years and six requests to get approval for the images.
The assembled mosaic above represents the first-ever image of the solar system taken from outside of the solar system. Voyager 1 took the photo on February 14, 1990. That’s shortly before NASA purposely disabled the crafts’ imaging equipment by deleting the software that controls the cameras. They did this to conserve both power and computer resources.
The Voyager 1 took the photograph above on February 14, 1990, from 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) away.
The image shows Earth as the blueish-white speck almost halfway up the brown band on the right.
The brown line in which Earth appears is one band of sunlight reflecting off a part of the spacecraft.
Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager imaging team and the captain of the small team that had produced the Golden Record, had proposed this image to the Voyager project in 1981. He eventually called it, the Pale Blue Dot.