Far, far away

September 13, 2013 

Not only is it going, to borrow one from the Star Trek, “where no man has gone before,” but the Voyager I spacecraft launched in 1977 has exited the solar system, a boundary usually described as everything within the gravitational pull of the sun. This means it’s gone where ... well, where nothing, nothing man-made anyway, has gone before.

Scientists are not unanimous about what all this means. Some say the craft, roughly the size of a Chevy, is at an altitude of 11.3 billion miles and is in interstellar space. Others want to quibble about just where the boundaries of the solar system are. One can imagine some scientists tossing back a few at the local watering hole:

“I say the Voyager is still in the solar system, and I’ll fight any aeronautical engineer who says different.”

“Oh, yeah? Well step outside, take out that pocket protector and fight like an astronomer.”

Actually, NASA was pretty doggone excited about the fact that this craft made by human hands and expected to complete a four-year mission is still out there. And it’s really “back there,” too. The craft’s technology includes an 8-track tape player, probably loaded with Linda Ronstadt and Gordon Lightfoot.

One of the scientists who wrote the report on Voyager for a scientific journal even likened the achievement of slipping the bonds of the solar system to landing on the moon. That’s not just a fellow getting excited and going over the moon about this. Thirty-six years in space, and still running? That’s happened exactly ... well, once in the history of humankind.

The spacecraft is still in touch, too, sending signals to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Now scientists are talking about a couple of hundred years or so hence, when Voyager should enter something called the Oort Cloud, a haze of comets.

Until then, Voyager, live long and prosper.

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