An artist concept depicting one of NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft. Humanity’s farthest and longest-lived spacecraft are celebrating 40 years in August and September 2017. NASA/JPL-Caltech
If you tried to start a car that’s been sitting in a garage for a year or two, you’d have to clean and replace parts before you’d hope to re-start it. But a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft successfully fired up Wednesday after sitting cold for 37 years and currently more than 13 billion miles from Earth in interstellar space. In that same time interval, I’ve gone through six cars. Voyager’s one mean machine!
Voyager 1, NASA’s farthest and fastest spacecraft, is the only human-made object currently in interstellar space, beyond the influence of the sun in the environment between the stars. The spacecraft, which has been flying for 40 years, relies on small devices called thrusters to orient itself so it can communicate with Earth. These thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or “puffs,” lasting just milliseconds, to subtly turn the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet. Last Wednesday, the Voyager team was able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980.
This artist’s concept shows ...