NASA has been in the news quite a bit in recent weeks for the landing of their latest Mars rover and now in celebration of Voyager 2′s 35 continuous years in space. With over 12,758 days in service, Voyager 2 is NASA’s longest-running mission — a record previously held by the Pioneer 6 probe.
Voyager 2 launched August 20, 1977, almost two weeks before its twin probe Voyager 1, on a mission to chiefly study Jupiter, Saturn, some of the giant gas moons, and the outer reaches of the solar system. The spacecraft has successfully fulfilled its mission and is continuing on towards interstellar space to make new discoveries. Although Voyager 1 will beat it across the boundary, collectively they will be the first manmade objects to travel outside the solar system.
Voyager 2 completed its primary task in 1989 and was the first probe to send detailed images of the outer gas planets. “Voyager results turned Jupiter and Saturn into full, tumultuous worlds, their moons from faint dots into distinctive places, and gave us our first glimpses of Uranus and Neptune up-close. We can’t wait for Voyager to turn our models of the space beyond our sun into the first observations from interstellar space,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Currently, the spacecraft is about 9 billion miles away from the sun and traveling south, while its counterpart is 11 billion miles from the sun and heading north. Both have successfully withstood radiation, searing heat, and now freezing temperatures but are still in good shape and are expected to have adequate power to continue communicating with Earth until 2020 or 2025.
Incidentally, in case the spacecraft ever encounters extraterrestrial life, it carries a gold-plated disc that contains images and sounds of life on Earth, including greetings in different languages, 117 images, and a variety of sounds.