Voyager 1 Is Sending Back Garbled Messages

Losing contact with the aging craft is a scientific loss, but also an 'emotional' one
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 10, 2024 4:10 PM CDT
After 46 Years,Voyager 1's Mission May Be Ending
This artist rendering released by NASA shows NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft barreling through space.   (AP Photo/NASA)

If you're still sentimental about Pluto's planetary status, get ready for a galactic gut punch. NASA's steadfast Voyager 1, which has been sending crucial data from space for nearly 50 years, is experiencing a serious glitch that may permanently end its communication back to Earth. NPR reports that the spacecraft hasn't sent coherent data in binary code since November, when it began spewing out alternating 1s and 0s. Suzanne Dodd of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said her team is doing what they can to try to fix the issue, but the technology they're working with is a far cry from today's. "The button you press to open the door of your car, that has more compute power than the Voyager spacecrafts do," Dodd told NPR.

The craft's original mission was to gather close-up information on Jupiter and Saturn, and Voyager 1 has made it deeper into space than any other human-made object, per the New York Times. While attempting to fix something 15 billion miles away comes with challenges—it takes researchers 45 hours to exchange information with it—Dodd says its role in research is "so valuable," they'll continue to try. When the craft launched alongside twin Voyager 2 in 1977, no one predicted how long their mission would last. "It's remarkable that they keep flying, and that they've flown for 46-plus years," Dodd says.

Before the twin crafts launched, some people already felt a personal connection to the journey. A committee including scientist Carl Sagan recorded images and sounds representative of Earth onto golden records and attached them to the crafts, in case they ever ran into alien life. Another moment that connected people to Voyager 1 occurred on Valentine's Day 1990, when some 3.7 million miles away from the sun, the spacecraft turned around to snap a photo of Earth, a tiny blue dot in the cosmos. "Scientifically, it's a big loss," Dodd said of potentially losing Voyager 1. "I think—emotionally—it's maybe even a bigger loss." Voyager 2, for its part, remains operational. (More Voyager 1 stories).

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