NASA Communicates with Ailing Voyager 1 Spacecraft

I remember staying up well past my bedtime in the late 70s and early 80s, watching the local PBS station where experts sat around a table, poring through freshly-printed glossy photos of mountain ranges, rings, and craters. I remember them holding up one photo and discussing whether they were looking at the disk of a distant moon that seemed to sprouted a volcanic plume on the edge… or was that the sunlight reflecting from another, more distant moon, partially obscured by the first?

At the time, photos showed more detail and were easier to work with than TV screens.

I was happy to hear NASA has restored at least partial contact with Voyager 1.

Spilker was straight out of college when she started working on the Voyagers, eager to see the outer solar system through their robotic eyes as they surfed the rare celestial alignment. “I had a telescope in third grade that I used to look at Jupiter and Saturn,” she says. “I wanted to get up really close and get a look at what these planets look like.”

Between 1979 and 1981, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 zipped by the gas giants, returning stunning images of banded Jupiter and buttery Saturn and their bewildering collection of moons. Voyager 2 went on to scrutinize the ice giants: Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. These were the first and only times anyone had seen each of these bluish ringed worlds up close.

“They were small little pinpoints of light, and now you’re flying close,” Spilker says. “And you see the cliffs of Miranda”—a bizarre Uranian moon—“and Triton, with active geysers going off.” (Nobody had expected to see an active icy world in orbit around Neptune, and even now Voyager’s 35-year-old image is still the best we have of that strange little moon.) —Scientific American

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *