Now, Voyager: Spacecraft Reaches Gateway to the Galaxy
Voyager 1, a NASA spacecraft launched 36 years ago, is approaching the very edge our our solar system—a mysterious boundary called the heliosphere.
Watch this three-minute video to learn a little about the Voyager missions and why this is such a tremendous moment in exploration.
- Watch our video on “Space Probes,” which describes the three major types of space exploration vehicles. Which type of space probe do students think the Voyager mission used?
- Both Voyager spacecraft are interplanetary probes. They did not orbit or land on any planet.
- Today, the Voyager Interstellar Mission is working to takes the probes beyond interplanetary science. Very soon, Voyager I will probably be Earth’s first interstellar probe. This is so exciting!!!!
- After watching the NASA video above (made in 2011), have students discuss why the Voyager mission was so important. Can they name some scientific information provided by Voyager?
- “We had no idea how much there was to discover,” says Ed Stone, a Voyager project scientist and former director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Stone lists some geologic discoveries made by Voyager:
- Suzy Dodd, a Voyager project manager, puts Voyager into even bigger perspective. “It’s the only spacecraft that’s gone by Uranus, it’s the only spacecraft that’s gone by Neptune. Everything we know about those planets we know from Voyager.”
- Ann Druyan, co-creator of the Voyager Golden Record, uses the geographic perspective. “What had been a point of light in the sky, was now a place.”
- Watch “Solar System Exploration,” featuring Bill Nye, the Science Guy, interviewing NASA scientists as they celebrate 50 years of solar system exploration. Ed Stone speaks first, outlining how the Voyager program influenced and inspired so many ongoing NASA projects. Which of the ongoing projects discussed in the video most intrigue students? How Earth formed? The search for extraterrestrial life? The roving life of explorers on Mars?
- One of Voyager’s most famous payloads is the Golden Record. The Golden Record is a sort of time capsule, a gold-plated copper phonograph disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life on Earth. The audio collection includes greetings in 55 of Earth’s languages, natural sounds, music from different cultures and time periods, and human brainwaves. The image collection includes a solar location map for Earth, the electromagnetic spectrum, DNA structure, diagrams of human anatomy, and photographs of animals, people, and places around the world. Why do students think scientists (led by famous astronomer Carl Sagan) included the Golden Record on the Voyager mission?
- The Golden Record is intended to “communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials,” according to NASA. This is, literally, geography: geo- (earth) and -graphy (writing).
- If NASA, another space agency, or a private corporation developed a spacecraft meant to travel to the interstellar medium, they would likely include another “Golden Record”—although it would unlikely be a phonograph “record.” What would students put on their “Golden Record”? Why? Consider media, content, and display. (Reviewing the contents of Voyager’s Golden Record might help.)