“Voyager Enters Solar System’s Final Frontier” the NASA headline reads. It has reached the edge of our solar system and is about to enter “a vast, turbulent expanse where the Sun’s influence ends and the solar wind crashes into the thin gas between stars.”
The Voyager probes (I & II) were launched in 1977. It was a year of changes, some good, some precarious. Egypt’s leader, President Anwar al-Sadat, broke from other Arab nations and recognized the state of Israel, the Panama canal, built and funded by the untied States of America, was given to Panama and immediately fell under the control of other foreign interests, the first Apple computer went on sale, the Trans Alaskan oil pipeline opened, Jimmy Carter was elected president and the World Trade Center in N.Y. was completed.
For the last 35 years they have ventured out, and sent back pictures and data that astound us. The storage on the Voyager I is an 8-track cassette and its processor is 100,000 times smaller than the one in a Nano iPod. Voyager is a tiny, technologically ancient, adventurer, but it is doing a tremendous job.
Yesterday, while driving around on errands, I borrowed my DH’s iPhone and accessed pictures that were sent from space via the Voyagers. (This very act would have been mind-boggling in 1977.)
About 110.8 billion miles from the Sun and traveling at a speed of 3.6 AU per year, Voyager I is about to face its biggest challenge. (An AU—astronomical unit–equals the distance between the Sun and Earth, or 93 million miles.) Soon it will cross the edge of our universe where the supersonic solar wind is held back from further expansion by the interstellar wind. It’s a cosmic battle of forces and the little adventurer is about to cross through. If it survives, it could continue to operate until 2020.
In 1977, when the probes were first sent out, like fledgling birds pushed from the nest, the Eagles released “New Kid in Town” with lyrics that said, “There’s talk on the street; it sounds so familiar; Great expectations, everybody’s watching you.” Fleetwood Mac gave us “Go Your Own Way.” And Americans lined up to see their first Star Wars movie where Luke Skywalker and his companions outwitted the formidable Darth Vadar.
We believed in overcoming impossible odds.
General Dodonna: The battle station is heavily shielded and carries a firepower greater than half the star fleet. Its defenses are designed around a direct, large-scale assault. A small one-man fighter should be able to penetrate the outer defense.
Gold Leader: Pardon me for asking, sir, but what good are snub fighters going to be against that?
General Dodonna: Well, the Empire doesn’t consider a small one-man fighter to be any threat, or they’d have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station. But the approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It’s a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station. Only a precise hit will set off a chain reaction. The shaft is ray-shielded, so you’ll have to use proton torpedoes.
Wedge Antilles (Red 2): That’s impossible! Even for a computer.
Luke: It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home, they’re not much bigger than two meters.
General Dodonna: Then man your ships. And may the Force be with you.