Voyager 1 Exits our Solar System

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On the 25 of August, 2013 something happened for the first time:  a man-made object left our solar system.  The Voyager 1 probe, launched in 1977, was built by NASA to analyze the far reaches of our solar system.  Included with Voyager 1 is the Golden Record, a compilation of images and sounds that will show alien life, humankind and our environment, should Voyager encounter it.

While some instruments on board Voyager have either broken or been disabled to save power, there remains functioning equipment to measure various factors of space. As Voyager 1 travels through interstellar space it will continue to transmit data back to NASA for around another thirteen to eighteen years, when it won’t be able to power any instruments.  While the ability remains Voyager 1 will continue to transmit back valuable information in regions of space we’ve never been able to study in this way.  Voyager 2, which has more functioning instruments than its sister, is also expected to leave the solar system in the near future.

While the first Voyager drifts (at almost 40,000MPH) through the void of space it could seem as though it’s mission is finally over.  But still, Voyager continues to transmit a faint signal back to NASA.  It’s plasma instruments designed to measure the particles throughout space send back data.  This is how it was discovered that Voyager had exited our immediate solar system, different levels of plasma exist within the heliopause because of the proximity to the sun.  Outside, in interstellar space, particles aren’t charged by the sun, so they’re relatively cool in temperature.

Currently, the biggest threat facing The Voyagers is the funding NASA is receiving.  The space agency’s budget has been in decline since it peaked in 1966 during the height of the Apollo program.  At its height NASA received almost five percent of the total government budget, currently it rests at half a percent of the governments budget.  Many advocates, most outspoken among them Neil DeGrasse Tyson, are campaigning for an increase in funding for NASA.  In Neil DeGrasse Tyson words, “right now, NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar.  For twice that–a penny on a dollar–we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to the dream of tomorrow.”  Following this the nonprofit group Penny4NASA was created to advocate the raise of funding to NASA.

While at the moment NASA may be underfunded, in a country where 20th century hope has diminished, but Voyager 1 continues out into space.  Where no man made object has ever existed.  It continues to transmit back information about things we’ve never been able to observe closely.  In Voyager 1 and its sister Voyager 2 lies the hope of exploration.

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