Cosmic Journeys examines the great promise of the Voyager mission and where it will lead us in our grand ambition to move out beyond our home planet. The two Voyager spacecraft are part of an ancient quest to push beyond our boundaries… to see what lies beyond the horizon. Now tens of billions of kilometers from Earth, two spacecraft are streaking out into the void. What will we learn about the Galaxy, the Universe, and ourselves from Voyager’s epic Journey to the stars? December 19, 1972… the splashdown of the Apollo 17 crew capsule marked the end of the golden age of manned spaceflight. The Mercury…. Gemini… and Apollo programs had proven that we could send people into space… To orbit the Earth…. Fly out beyond our planet… Then land on the moon and walk among its ancient crater. The collective will to send people beyond our planet faded in times of economic uncertainty, war, and shifting priorities. And yet, just five years after Apollo ended, scientists launched a new vision that was just as profound and even more far-reaching.
It didn’t all go smoothly. Early computer problems threatened to doom Voyager 2. Then its radio receiver failed, forcing engineers to use a back up. Now, after more than three and a half decades of successful operations, the twin spacecraft are sending back information on their flight into interstellar space. Along the way, they have revealed a solar system rich beyond our imagining.
The journey was made possible by a rare alignment of the planets, a configuration that occurs only once every 176 years. That enabled the craft to go from planet to planet, accelerating as they entered the gravitational field of one, then flying out to the next. The Voyagers carried a battery of scientific equipment to collect data on the unknown worlds in their path. That included a pair of vidicom cameras, and a data transfer rate slower than a dialup modem.