Voyager 1 and 2 Spacecraft Enter Final Phase of Their Mission

“Pale Blue Dot,” taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft, showing Earth captured as a pale dot suspended in a sunbeam from beyond Neptune’s orbit prior to the Voyager team turning off the onboard cameras. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA engineers will meet next month to discuss the possibility of shutting down scientific instruments to conserve power on the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft after 44 years of service. These twin probes have traversed the reach of our Sun’s magnetic field and are the farthest-traveled human-made probes. Although Voyager 1 has four instruments that are still operational, and Voyager 2 has five, the radioactive energy sources on the spacecraft are producing only 40% of their original capacity, causing scientists and engineers to consider further decreasing power requirements to extend the missions until the 2030s.

Driven by a cosmic alignment that occurs every 176 years, NASA launched the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 to take advantage of a fortuitous alignment of the outer planets that lessened travel time to Neptune from 30 to 12 years. Having successfully navigated obstacles such as crossing the asteroid belt unscathed and performing repeated gravity assists, the missions were spectacularly successful. The Voyager spacecraft revealed that the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn are not dead, icy bodies as previously thought, but instead are dynamic, geologically active worlds. Additional discoveries included the wide variety of geologic terrains across the different moons and gas giants, which continue to inspire planetary scientists to expand our collective knowledge of these distant regions.

NASA began culling less-critical components of the spacecraft in 2019, turning off heaters and specific scientific instruments to maximize their longevity while continuing to collect plasma and magnetic data about interstellar space. Voyager 1 and 2 will continue their outward journeys long after their missions officially end. Each probe carries a gold-plated phonographic record encoded with images, sounds, and greetings from Earth in case intelligent life finds and collects the probes as they continue their journeys, in the very human hope that we are not alone in the universe. READ MORE