Introduction: Voyager in Space (02:22)
Voyager was the most important science project of the 20th century. It may, in the long run, be the only evidence that we existed. Every second, the space probe reaches another place mankind has never been before.
Reaching the Outer Solar System (02:05)
A team of scientists and engineers launched a mission of staggering ambition in 1977. The initial concept was a grand tour of the outermost planets. What were their atmospheres like? What were their moons like? At the time, our knowledge of these worlds was scant.
Outer Planets Grand Tour (02:36)
The mission was made possible by gravity assist, the use of other worlds as a slingshot. A rare alignment of the planets that occurs about once every 175 years meant travel time could be greatly reduced. President Richard Nixon approved a mission to just two planets.
Message in a Bottle (04:42)
Realizing their space probe would leave the solar system, scientists decided to include a message for any intelligent aliens that might encounter the craft. The driving force behind the message was astrophysicist Carl Sagan. More than anyone, he made the study of extraterrestrial life credible.
Constructing the Probes (03:31)
Preparation for the mission got underway in 1972. Two Voyager spacecraft would be built, meaning two chances at success. The most advanced computers in the 1970s were about as powerful as a 21st century key fob.
Extremely Rare Record (03:16)
Timothy Ferris produced the Golden Record. He and his team had to figure out how to explain the world to aliens and finish the recording in six weeks. They included European symphonies, Japanese shakuhachi music, pygmy singing and more. Two copies were made and hurled off into space.
Final preparations for two launches began in Florida in the summer of 1977, and journalists converged on Cape Canaveral to cover the once-in-a-lifetime mission. Voyager 2 was launched first, and Voyager 1 was launched later on a faster trajectory.
Launch Complications (05:16)
The rockets that carried the Voyager 2 shook so violently that sensors detected failure and started switching to backup systems. The NASA team scrambled to fine-tune Voyager 1’s software, but a leak in a fuel line complicated that launch, as well.
First Planetary Encounter (07:24)
The twin Voyagers had finally embarked on their odyssey across the solar system. Voyager 1 approached Jupiter in January 1979, with Voyager 2 four months behind. The probes sent back a torrent of dramatic images, but powerful radiation threatened their electronics.
Electrical Storms and Odd Moons (07:36)
Recordings of whistlers indicated the presence of massive lightning strikes on Jupiter’s surface. The probes also revealed massive oceans on Europa, volcanic activity on Io, and a feature that Jupiter had in common with its neighbor.
"Hello from the Children of Planet Earth" (07:34)
The journey to Saturn would take more than a year and bring Voyager and its message one step closer to possibly being discovered by intelligent life. The Golden Record contained the call of a humpback whale and a salutations in 55 languages.
Second Planetary Encounter (04:49)
Voyager got its first close views of Saturn in the fall of 1980. Scientists had a special interest in studying Titan, believing the moon might help them learn about early conditions on Earth. Voyager 1 revealed a world that was 300 degrees below zero with lakes of liquid methane.
Mission Setback (06:24)
Voyager 1, its mission over, sped away from the plane of the planets. Voyager 2 would have to fly dangerously close to Saturn’s rings to continue to Uranus. The probe transmitted a series of error signals, indicating something had gone wrong; the scan platform had frozen.
Images from Earth (06:06)
The Voyager Record contains a set of about a hundred images that depict human civilization. In January 1986, Voyager 2 closed in on Uranus. The planet was turned on its side and featured a blue methane atmosphere.
New Discoveries (04:54)
The stars of the Uranus encounter were the planet’s moons. Voyager 2 captured the scarred surface of Miranda, discovered 10 tiny moons and revealed two new rings. Scientists were about to present their findings when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
Final Planetary Encounter (05:07)
Voyager reached Neptune in the summer of 1989. The trip was nearly 20 years shorter than a direct approach, thanks to slingshots at Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. The planet was revealed as a bright blue orb with a large, dark spot.
Mission End (06:02)
Voyager 2 skimmed the cloud tops of Neptune in route to a close encounter with Triton. The moon’s southern hemisphere was completely covered by nitrogen ice and massive plumes spewed from its surface.
Rocker Chuck Berry performed at a sendoff celebration held at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At Sagan’s suggestion, Voyager took a series of photographs of our solar system in 1990. Voyager 1 became the first manmade object to reach interstellar space in August 2012.
Credits: The Farthest: Voyager in Space (00:32)
Credits: The Farthest: Voyager in Space
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