11.6 Billion and Counting: Voyager 1 Makes Interstellar History

I didn’t meet Capt. Janeway until I was in my 20s, but I felt as though I’d known her all my life.

In fact, being the unapologetic geek that I am, I’ve always looked up to the brave leaders of those star-faring ships that took me places I had never imagined before…

Capt. JanewayCapt. Janeway

And it looks like Voyager is at it again.

Each Voyager spacecraft is equipped with a special kind of “time capsule” designed to relay information to distant alien races across time and distance.

After what scientists estimate to be about a year of traveling through a sea of plasma and ionized gas, NASA’s spacecraft Voyager 1 has finally become the first man-made object to travel into interstellar space.

In fact, this happened sometime back in August 2012, but due to the complicated process of filtering through and interpreting the virtually endless data being relayed by the Voyager spacecraft, it’s taken us this long to confirm it.

Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 were both launched 36 years ago with a mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn. After the unprecedented success of that excursion, their foray into space was extended indefinitely.

The Voyager Interstellar Mission, or VIM, began about 12 years after the 1977 launch and after completing the initial mission of solar planet exploration.

The new mission is simple:

Keep going.

Over the coming years, scientists hope to learn much more about the properties of our own solar system as well as what lies beyond.

Now Voyager 2 is somewhere in the neighborhood of 9.5 billion miles from the sun, while Voyager 1 is about 11.6 billion miles out, and both are still moving quickly into the unknown.

Don’t worry, though. We made sure they were well prepared…

Each Voyager spacecraft is equipped with a special kind of “time capsule” designed to relay information to distant alien races across time and distance.

The delivery device itself is actually a gold-plated copper disk imprinted with sounds and images that are meant to communicate the diversity of life and culture on planet Earth.

Copper Disc on VoyagerCredit: NASA JPL

A variety of information was integrated into these “time capsules,” including spoken greetings in 55 languages, 90 minutes of music and 115 images ranging from diagrams of human evolution to photos of everyday things like grocery stores and highways during rush hour.

But since it will be about 40,000 years before either Voyager passes the closest planetary system, the odds aren’t really in our favor of someone finding them. In fact, the only way it’s likely to happen at all is if there’s an advanced race of beings out there with ability to detect and retrieve the craft.

And even if that’s the case, it will be a long time before we hear from them.

Still, I say we hold out hope. After all, we may not be the first ones to try this. It’s possible that there’s a time capsule from another world heading in this direction as we speak. And if there is, I know we’ll find a way to get our hands on it so we can say hello.

Here’s to the future,

Patrick Copeland
for The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: LED displays… Artificial limbs… Memory foam… Clearly the exploration of space has given us more than Tang and freeze-dried steak. Indeed, it has yielded some of the world’s most exciting and useful technologies, and even if federal funding has waned in recent years, the next great tech story could very well still emerge from this sector. The free Tomorrow in Review newsletter makes sure to keep a close eye on this, as well as all the other incredible tech stories coming to market. It’s like Wired, but with real actionable investment advice. Get in on the ground floor of the next great tech story. Sign up for Tomorrow in Review, for free, right here.

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