Odd Stuff (Part 5)

A lovely eulogy:

There’s no way to pack the whole story of Voyager 1 into a single blog post. Here’s the TLDR: Voyager was the first spacecraft to fly past Jupiter, and the first to take close-up photos of Jupiter’s moons. It flew on past Saturn, and examined Saturn’s moon Titan, the only moon with an atmosphere. And then it flew onwards, on and on, for another forty years. It officially left the Solar System and entered interstellar space in 2012. It just kept going, further and further into the infinite emptiness.

(You know about the Golden Record? Come on, everybody knows about the Golden Record. It’s kind of hokey and cheesy and also kind of amazing and great.)

Voyager has grown old. It was never designed for this! Its original mission was supposed to last a bit over three years. Voyager has turned out to be much tougher than anyone ever imagined, but time gets us all. Its power source is a generator full of radioactive isotopes, and those are gradually decaying into inert lead. Year by year, the energy declines, the power levels relentlessly fall. Year by year, NASA has been switching off Voyager’s instruments to conserve that dwindling flicker. They turned off its internal heater a few years ago, and they thought that might be the end. But those 1970s engineers built to last, and the circuitry and the valves kept working even as the temperature dropped down, down, colder than dry ice, colder than liquid nitrogen, falling towards absolute zero.