The Voyagers are still going strong

This pair was aptly named. Launched in 1977, the Voyagers are still cruising, still doing science, still sending back photos and data, still occasionally making the news. Just this past summer, they discovered bubbles in the outer edge of the sun's magnetic field, way out at the boundary of the solar system.

The most recent news is more mundane and administrative in one sense, and pretty darn amazing in another sense. The Voyagers have now switched the last set of thrusters to the backup set. Sounds kind of boring, until you realize that this means the longest lasting of the primary set of thrusters lasted for 33 years. Without maintenance. Yeah, try that with your car.

Every time I look at this set of twins, they amaze me. They were designed from the start to be deep space probes; these are the ones who carry the famous golden record (and the needle to play it—yes, it is in fact a phonograph record, only made out of gold instead of vinyl) and took the first ever picture of both the earth and the moon in the same frame. (Links at the bottom of that page to larger versions of the photo.) They're also the only spacecraft ever to have visited Uranus (1986) and Neptune (1989). Everything we know about those two planets beyond distant telescope viewing, we owe to Voyager 2.

Apparently now that they're fully switched to the backup thrusters, they can shut off the heat to the primaries and save power, and expect to get at least another 10 years out of the backup thrusters. Did I mention the backup thrusters weren't maintained for over 30 years either, and they worked fine when NASA turned them on? This just boggles my mind.

I am curious to see what they find when they finally cross out of our sun's area of influence and get into interstellar space, and I really hope their thrusters last that long. (The thrusters in question aren't their drive, they're for aiming the antenna so they can keep talking to Earth.) They just keep on finding new things!

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