Voyager 1 launched 40 years ago today, September 5th 1977, from Cape Canaveral Florida. I was only 9 years old when its sister spacecraft, Voyager 2, flew by Neptune and it’s largest moon Triton in 1989. My parents called me downstairs to watch the evening news when it happened and I saw for the first time images from this far distant world called Neptune.
That was a defining moment for me. The Voyager mission, with each of its long lived spacecraft, has brought all of us along on its Grand Tour of the outer solar system. And while I only caught the end of the planetary mission, it inspired me to want to learn more about space and the planets, and it has been a thrill to watch as the Voyager spacecraft have ventured out into interstellar space. It is a truly remarkable feat of engineering that these spacecraft have not only survived this long, but that they are still functioning and returning scientific data back to us here on earth.
Voyager for the first time, gave us close up views of all four giant planets in our solar system. Saturn’s rings were revealed to us in greater detail than we had ever had before. Uranus and Neptune, which we were only specs of light in our telescopes before, were revealed to us for the first time. The moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune proved to be more complex and wonderful than we ever expected. These moons, tiny worlds in their own right, continue to surprise us even today with their diversity and complexity.
Studying the worlds of this solar system has been an important part of my life ever since that moment when I was 9, watching the evening news and the first images of Neptune in my living room. And the beauty is that we have only begun. Neptune and Uranus call to us, awaiting a full scale “flag-ship” mission like Cassini or Galileo to explore them in detail. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the number of worlds out there waiting in the Kuiper Belt, such as Pluto and Eris and countless others that I can’t wait to meet.
For more information, and continued coverage by NASA, check out their twitter feed @NASAVoyager. Also there is a new documentary (I have not seen it yet, but I’ve heard it’s amazing) on PBS about Voyager, called The Farthest, which you should check out.