What were you up to on September 5th 1977? On that day, exactly 45 years ago today, those hardworking engineers at NASA were out there launching one of the American space agency’s most famous probes: Voyager 1.
Confusingly launched just after its sibling, Voyager 2, the probe reaches the impressive milestone of 45 years in space today. Over that span of time, Voyager 1 has travelled from Florida across the cosmos and out into interstellar space. In fact, it’s now more than 14 billion miles away from Earth. If you wanted to put 14 billion miles on your car, you’d have to drive every last mile of paved road on earth, every single day, for a full year.
But Voyager 1 isn’t just about getting as far away from Florida as possible. In fact, it’s made some pretty important discoveries over its 45-year mission. So, to honour the probe’s big day, we rounded up some of the most interesting facts and discoveries made by Voyager 1 since it launched.
22 Times Faster Than a Bullet
When it launched from Florida in 1977, Voyager 1 was strapped to the top of a Titan IIIE rocket packed with enough thrust to break free of Earth’s gravity. But since leaving the warm embrace of the rocket decades ago, Voyager 1 has been powered by 16 built-in thrusters.
These thrusters, paired with an array of gyroscopes that keep the craft stable, keep Voyager 1 cruising away from Earth at a cool 61,199 km/h, which is roughly 22 times faster than your average bullet.
The First Man-Made Craft in Interstellar Space
Over the past 45 years, Voyager 1 has checked off a whole host of important firsts. The most notable came in 1990 when the craft officially began the interstellar portion of its mission. For ten years, Voyager 1 prepared to cross the boundary of our solar system and venture into interstellar space, which is the space between stars and galaxies.
According to NASA, Voyager finally became the first man-made craft to cross into interstellar space in August 2012.
Chuck Berry on Board
One of the most famous additions to the Voyager probe is a golden record, which was meant as a message from Earth to any being that might find the probe one day.
As well as a host of sounds and greetings from across the world, the record also features 27 pieces of music. Chief among the songs onboard is Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry. Fun fact, you’d be able to listen to this song more than 9 million times if you played it non-stop for 45 years.
Put a Ring on it
Over its 45-year mission, Voyager 1 has made a host of exciting discoveries. One big find for the probe came when it passed Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system.
While passing the gas giant, Voyager 1 spotted a thin ring around the planet, similar to the rings of Saturn. It also located two new moons, which were named Thebe and Metis.
It might not come as a surprise, but 45 years in outer space has taken its toll on Voyager 1. In fact, since the craft has far outlived its original five-year mission, some systems have been forced to shut down to keep Voyager 1 flying.
As such, equipment such as cameras, cosmic ray detectors and infrared sensors have all been turned off to try and prolong the craft’s life.
Far From Home
Before engineers began shutting equipment down, Voyager 1 took one last look back at Earth. Way back in February 1990, Voyager 1 pointed its cameras back the way it had come to snap a photo of our planet from more than 3 billion miles away.
That photo, called The Pale Blue Dot, remains the farthest image ever taken of our home.
45 Years on the Job
Despite shutting down many systems over the years, Voyager 1 is still carrying out important scientific work as it passes through space. Five systems remain functional on the probe, measuring things like magnetic fields, cosmic rays and interstellar plasma.
Because of its vast distance from the Earth, it now takes about two days for any information shared by these instruments to reach scientists at NASA.
Remember, Remember the Fifth of September
It isn’t just Voyager 1 celebrating a birthday today. As the craft turns 45 on September 5th, a host of other famous faces are marking the occasion for themselves.
People like English comedian Johnny Vegas, Scandinavian singer-songwriter Sigrid and Arsenal soccer player Bukayo Saka are all celebrating this Labour Day.
Editor’s note: If you couldn’t tell, Owen is Jalopnik’s resident Brit.
Three Years Left
When NASA launched the Voyager probes back in the ‘70s, they had a five-year mission to study Jupiter and Saturn up close, which they completed on time. Now, after 40 additional years in space, power levels are dwindling and the crafts are both reaching the end of their lives.
In fact, NASA estimates that Voyager 1 could have enough power for just another three years of scientific data collection. But because space is a vacuum, the craft will continue on its current trajectory until it hits something. Nobody knows how far from Earth Voyager 1 will be when it finally meets its resting place.
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