Voyager 1 Launched 40 Years Ago Today

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On this day in 1977, Voyager 1 launched from Florida’s NASA Kennedy Space Center. Over the past four decades, together with its twin Voyager 2, the spacecraft outperformed all expectations—gathering invaluable information about Jupiter and Saturn, then becoming the first human-made object to cross into interstellar space in 2012.

 

Voyager illustration styled like a '70s record album, with text that reads "Since '77", "Voyager", "The Hits just keep on comin' ".

Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech


Both spacecraft are still exploring as part of our farthest and longest-lasting space mission and carrying the Golden Record, with recordings of nature, human languages, and music out into the universe.

 


Below, we look at some key numbers that tell the story of Voyager’s amazing journey so far.

 

176

The particular planetary alignment that made the Voyager mission possible occurs every 176 years. Identified by two NASA scientists in 1965, it showed that a spacecraft launched in 1977 could take advantage of all of the planets in our solar system aligning on one side of the Sun, and of a “gravity assist technique,” to bounce from one planet to the next, shortening a voyage to Neptune by more than half.

 

Multiple rocketships race through the rings of Saturn, surrounded by other planets, text reads "The Once in a Lifetime Getaway, The Grand Tour".

Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech


 

5

The original life expectancy of both spacecraft was five years. Within that time, both had encountered Jupiter and Saturn, returning stunning findings of active volcanoes and lightning beyond Earth, new moons around Jupiter and Saturn, a thick atmosphere on the moon Titan, and more. Then, they kept moving.

 

10

The number of experiments each of the twin spacecraft was designed to conduct was 10, using instruments that included radio, television cameras, infrared and ultraviolet sensors, cosmic-ray and charged-particle sensors, magnetometers, and plasma detectors. Over time, as the mission continued beyond its original aim, various instruments were shut down to save power and to re-allocate to specific instruments so that information could continue to be gathered.

 

4

Voyager 1 took its last images—the so-called “Solar System Family Portrait” showing Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune around the Sun—from the distance of 4 billion miles from the Sun. Its cameras were then shut down to shift power to instruments that were gathering data about solar wind and interstellar space.

 

Spare, abstract illustration of Voyager in space, with text reading "Voyager".

Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech


 

2030

The year NASA estimates the final components of both Voyager spacecraft will turn off, having exhausted electrical power, is 2030. But good news—they’ll still keep cruising into the universe, even if we won’t hear from them. And until then, we still have a good 13 years left to go.

To hear from a Voyager mission member, listen to this podcast of a recent conversation between Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist who was on the Voyager imaging team.

 

Podcast: Download | RSS | iTunes (58 mins, 56 MB)

 

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Voyager spacecraft with an evening of music and visualizations with a special Astronomy Live program this November. See the calendar listing for more details.