August 1977 I was visiting my grandparents in Florida and we took a day trip up to see the launch of Voyager 2. That was the same trip when I visited Walt Disney World during the same week, possibly the same day, as Cory Doctorow’s fabled first visit.
Don’t worry - we still do. Plenty went to Mars with the last few rovers.
Sourcing 238-Pu gets problematic at times (short half-life and I think you need a specific reactor run to create the stuff, but we do work for NASA nearly every day at the Pu facility in Los Alamos NM. Not only for space power generation but IIRC at least one rover has a heat source near each axle “bearing” to keep things warm enough to roll smoothly.
Amusing stuff. It has enough alpha-activity that the “recoil” from the emission will move contamination from the dirty areas everywhere, seemingly targeted with evil intent towards the now-cleaned ones. It literally jumps around on its own. Decon is a frustrating challenge if you make an oopsie. I’ve only worked with it once as plain old 239-Pu is interesting enough for me.
Came here to post something like this, though you did it so much more eloquently than I could have.
Its almost embarrassing how much the shutdown of those collections of computers, sensors, and radios is going to make me when it inevitably happens.
You’ll probably hate me when you find out I grew up in Los Angeles, and my best friend’s dad worked at JPL, and he gave us a grand tour of the Voyager image processing center. We got to see images from Saturn and Jupiter as they were received from the probes – line by line of pixels.
It was kind of cool looking back at that time. I got to see actual data from the probe a handful of years AFTER I watched the probe leave the Earth.
It’s so weird, isn’t it? I have no problem with the idea of people purposefully going to Mars knowing they will never come back, but somehow the idea of abandoning these loyal little robots, who did everything they were supposed to and more, to the dusty vacuum…it’s so sad. They should be enshrined in history.