Added by Erik West on September 5, 2012
The Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched September 5 1977, having travelled over 18 billion kilometers (over 11 billion miles) – the farthest man-made object from Earth – marks 35 years in space on Wednesday.
“Time after time, Voyager revealed unexpected – kind of counterintuitive – results, which means we have a lot to learn,” said Edward Stone, chief scientist and professor of physics at California Institute of Technology.
Voyager 1 is designed to study the outer solar system and interstellar medium. The spacecraft observed Jupiter on January 1 1979 and moved on to observe Saturn on August 22 1980. Its extended interstellar mission started on December 14 1980 – it overtook Pioneer 10 as the most
distant man-made object from the Sun on November 17 1998.
Voyager 1 was the first spacecraft to use a new technique called gravity-assist which increases the spacecraft’s speed while using minimal fuel – this enabled the spacecraft to become the fastest man-made object at a speed of 17.2 km/s or 61 920 km/h (10.7 mi/sec or 38,520 mi/h)
Voyager 1 reached the heliosheath, the outermost layer of the solar system as described by effects of solar wind, on February 2012. In about 40,000 years it will come within 1.6 light years of the star AC+ 79 3888 – a red dwarf star that is moving toward the solar system at about 430 000 km/h (270,000 mi/h).
Voyager 1 is powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators that are expected to provide power to the spacecraft until about 2025. It takes about 16 hours for radio signals sent from the space probe to reach Earth.
Edward Stone, 76, has been principal investigator on nine NASA spacecraft missions and co-investigator of five other missions. He has been the Project Scientist for the Voyager spacecraft missions since 1972. Stone was the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory between 1991 and 2001 – a period of time that included the Cassini, Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner rovers, Mars Global Surveyor, and Mars Odyssey missions.
The jet Propulsion Laboratory is managed by the California Institute of Technology with a primary function to build and operate robotic planetary spacecraft.