By Angel MedFlight Contributor
Occasionally here at Angel MedFlight we like to recognize achievements in flight and scientific exploration. Although we are an air ambulance provider – we have raised the bar in patient care – and continually strive to exceed our patients' expectations. In terms of space exploration, NASA's Voyager 1 has exceeded expectations as the space agency announced Thursday the probe has become the first spacecraft to reach interstellar space.
|Artist's depiction of Voyager spacecraft (NASA)|
The space probe and its twin Voyager 2 were launched a few months apart in the summer of 1977 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Their original mission was to conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn, Saturn's rings along with the larger moons of the two planets. With that mission completed and all instruments on both probes operational, NASA provided additional funding for them to press onward. The interstellar mission began in 1990.
According to NASA, the 36-year-old Voyager 1 probe is about 12 billion miles from our sun and has been traveling for about a year through plasma present in the space between stars. Yes, the probe left our solar system more than a year ago but scientists needed to be sure by studying the evidence.
Ed Stone, a Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology says, "Now that we have new, key data, we believe this is mankind's historic leap into interstellar space." Stone says the Voyager team needed time to analyze the observations and make sense of them. "But we can now answer the question we've all been asking -- 'Are we there yet?' Yes we are."
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched just over two weeks apart in 1977. Both spacecraft flew by Jupiter and Saturn but Voyager 2 also passed by Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 is the longest continuously operated spacecraft and is about 9.5 billion miles from the sun.
Both probes continue to send data back to earth. NASA says mission controllers talk or receive data from them every day but the emitted signals are very faint -- about 23 watts, which is the power of a refrigerator light bulb. By the time those signals get back to earth, NASA says they are a fraction of a billion-billionth of a watt. The signals take about 17 hours to reach mission control.
According to NASA, Voyager 1 is in a transitional region just outside the solar bubble called the heliosphere, where some effects from the sun are still evident. Scientists aren't sure when Voyager 1 will reach the part of interstellar space where there is no influence from our sun. They also don't know when Voyager 2 will cross into interstellar space like its twin, but they believe it's not very far behind.
The first circumnavigation of the earth, the first man on the moon and now the first spacecraft to leave our solar system. Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance applauds the scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA for this achievement in space exploration.
As Disney's Buzz Lightyear would say, "To Infinity and beyond!"