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[personal profile] krpalmer
Along with the countdown to the solar eclipse, I've managed to pick up on another occurrence in space by hearing we've reached the fortieth anniversary of the launch of the Voyager probes. This was further distinguished by the probe launched Voyager 2 having been launched on August 20, 1977, only to be passed on the way to Jupiter by Voyager 1, which didn't leave Earth until September.

The Voyagers were "the more detailed follow-up" at Jupiter with Pioneer 10 and 11 having made it past that gas giant's dangerous radiation belts years before the launch we're now marking, and Pioneer 11 took a slow route to Saturn to take a few not especially compelling pictures still in advance of its successors. However, the Voyagers had their own important and impressive part in turning "dots in the sky" into a succession of worlds. I suppose I did experience "these first and once-ever revelations" at Jupiter and Saturn after the fact through National Geographic cover stories (although Voyager 1 had opened up enough of a lead to Saturn the second article only included its pictures, leaving the drama of Voyager 2's camera-aiming gear jamming to books I managed to find later). It wasn't until Voyager 2 got to Uranus (even that had seemed a carefully underplayed "maybe it'll last that long" possibility in the early coverage I've seen) that I was following along in the newspaper. That encounter was unfortunately followed by the fatal last launch of space shuttle Challenger, although getting to Neptune three years later made for a better ending. I have heard Voyager 1 could have been sent to Pluto had it not been sent close by Titan (an important enough target Voyager 2 could have traded Uranus and Neptune for it); in one of the books I've found, though, some program scientists were asked if they "regretted" having taken close-up pictures of a satellite shrouded in peach-coloured clouds only to explain there was more to detect close up than just surface pictures. Whether some pictures of Pluto would have made it harder to dismiss in the next decade as "not big enough to really count, and obviously not interesting," I don't know, but I suppose they wouldn't have been as good as the pictures from the brief encounter of New Horizons.

Beyond that actual ending, of course, the Voyagers have kept sending back information, enduring not just years but decades after their first estimates of longevity to reach uncertain stellar terrain. Beyond that, there's contemplation of the time capsule records attached to them, although I can also consider that in a mere four decades they've gone from "a durable record not quite like one you'd play at home" to "at least they'd long outlast a CD, and they might be easier for even extraterrestrials of unknown mentality to decipher" to "and now vinyl's not just a statement, but an accessible one again."

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