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Voyager 1 may be lost to us forever

Published Feb 8th, 2024 4:07PM EST
illustration of Voyager probe in space
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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One of the most iconic space probes ever launched could be on its way out the door. The Voyager 1 probe, which has spent the last decade barreling through interstellar space, has been experiencing glitches in its system since the end of last year. Its status remains unchanged, and now, NASA JPL says it will be a “miracle” to get it working again (via Ars Technica).

Voyager 1 launched in 1977, shortly after its twin, Voyager 2. The two space probes have since become the longest-running human-made spacecraft, as well as the furthest-traveling human-made spacecraft. Both are iconic. But, a computer glitch could very well be the end of the long-standing mission.

The problems first arose when Voyager 1 started sending back gibberish in May of 2022. NASA fixed the issue, but then the glitching resumed back in December, leaving astronomers scratching their heads. That status hasn’t changed, and Voyager 1 is still sending back gibberish.

Voyager 1 in spaceImage source: Aleksandr / Adobe

The really tough thing about troubleshooting issues with Voyager 1 is that it takes over 22 hours for any signal to reach the spacecraft. Then those signals must travel back to Earth, which is another 22-plus hours. Roughly, communication between the team here on Earth and the probe takes around 45 hours, according to NASA.

The problem, at least as far as the engineers can tell, is the FDS, or flight data system. The FDS is an important part of the probe’s design, and it’s responsible for collecting any onboard engineering info from the various instruments on the probe. But, Voyager 1’s status hasn’t changed in two months. Will it?

That’s the tricky question. But, according to NASA JPL, it will be quite a miracle to get things working again. As such, the iconic space explorer that we’ve relied on for information about interstellar space may be taking its final breaths. Of course, the engineers aren’t ready to give up yet, and there’s always a small sliver of a chance that things will right themselves.

But, even if they don’t, the Voyager 1 probe has spent the past 40-plus years exploring space and teaching us about our universe beyond the heliosphere. That’s something to be proud of, and considering the spacecraft wasn’t even designed to last this long, the engineers can rest easy knowing that they did everything they could to help Voyager along its journey.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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