At a time when Americans hang on to their cars for an average 11.5 years, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, two NASA space probes, are still going strong nearly forty years after liftoff.
And in August 2012, after a journey of thirty-five years and more than 10 billion miles, Voyager 1 earned a cherished place in history, becoming the first human-made object to leave our solar system and cross over into interstellar space.
NASA has praised the Voyager mission as its “most scientifically productive mission ever,” and the agency says the two probes will likely have enough juice to remain fully operational through 2025.
Not the End
In time, power will fail, systems will begin to shut down, and Voyagers 1 and 2 will go quiet and dark, losing their ability to investigate space and relay findings back to scientists on Earth.
But that’s not the end. Unless the two craft are destroyed by space junk, they will spend the next few billion years passing through our own Milky Way galaxy, only one of the many billions of galaxies floating around out there.
As David Brandstreet and I say in our new book, Star Struck:
“The Voyagers are destined—perhaps eternally—to wander the Milky Way,” says NASA.
Some forty thousand years from now, Voyager 1 is expected to draw closer to AC+79 3888, a “nearby” star in the Camelopardalis constellation. A quarter-million years or so later it will pass by Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
President Jimmy Carter dedicated the Voyagers before liftoff, suggesting they could “survive a billion years into our future . . . when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed.”
Cosmic Greeting Card
The Voyagers’ closing act may be the most exciting. Even after the two craft cease their labors as scientific probes, they will continue their work as cosmic ambassadors, reaching out to any forms of extraterrestrial life they may encounter during their journeys.
If creatures from one of our Creator’s other planets ever retrieve one of these Voyagers, they will find messages of greeting from us Earthlings, along with an invitation to get to know us better by browsing a multimedia family album featuring iconic sights and sounds from our planet.
Will anyone out there ever play the record and see Earth’s family album? If so, what will alien life-forms make of the varied sights and sounds from our tiny blue planet circa 1977, the year New York City went dark and the first Apple computer went on sale:
Greetings in more than fifty languages, from Akkadian, a language spoken in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago, to Wu, a Chinese dialect;
Compositions by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Stravinsky; a chant by Navajo Indians; an initiation song sung by pygmy girls in Zaire; songs by Australian aborigines; and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”;
Earth sounds, including crickets, frogs, wind, rain, thunder, crashing surf, and exploding volcanoes;
And more than one hundred color images, including a map showing our cosmic address; diagrams of the DNA structure and human anatomy; Ansel Adams photographs of California’s Golden Gate Bridge and the Snake River winding through the Grand Tetons; and two contrasting residences, India’s luxurious Taj Mahal and a humbler dwelling in America’s Amish country.
President Jimmy Carter added his own message of greeting on the Golden Records:
“We cast this message into the cosmos,” wrote “This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”
Do you think anyone out there will ever “play” Voyagers’ records?
You can read all about stellar travel in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).
You can pre-order your own copy here: