On this day 35 years ago.

Voyager 1 was launched. About the size of a small car it carries some cameras and scientific instruments. It has been for some years the most distant man made object from the Earth (Currently it is more than eleven billion miles distant from the Sun and receding rapidly). It may already be the first man made object to leave the Solar System.

Before leaving it did the Grand Tour of the known planets and sent back pictures of Jupiter’s Red Spot, erupting volcanoes on Io, traces of water under the ice of Europa and methane rain on Titan, all unexpected discoveries.

It flies on, with sufficient fuel for instruments and communications until at least 2020, it is, of course, nuclear powered.

Author: Low Wattage

Expat Welshman, educated (somewhat) in UK, left before it became fashionable to do so. Now a U.S. Citizen, and recent widower, playing with retirement and house remodeling, living in Delaware and rural Maryland (weekends).

17 thoughts on “On this day 35 years ago.”

  1. Low Wattage :

    it is, of course, nuclear powered.

    Howzit LW

    That might confuse some of our cherished colleagues, as I understand it we have to differentiate between propulsion and it’s on board power.

    As I understand it (and I could of course be wrong) Voyager’s propulsion is now garnered from Newtons First Law of Motion, i.e. it’s ‘freewheeling.’

    Here;s the best explanation I’ve read for the on board gadgets…

    “electrical energy, is provided by a neuclear isotope source, (Plutonium 238) the decay of which generates heat, which in turn is utilised to produce electrical power via an array of thermocouple devices. I believe it’s now in the order of maybe 150-odd Watts, and will continue to drop over time. I think there’s enough juice left to run a few of the systems until the mid 2020’s? Incidentally, a thermocouple is (very simply) two dissimilar metals held together at a junction, and when this junction is heated, the opposing end being cooler, (ei: space!) a small current is produced. You’ll find these devices in domestic gas appliances!”

    A comment over on the DM’s pages


  2. Araminta :

    More junk in space, LW? Not content with littering our own solar system, it seems we must spread it further afield.

    Ara, I wouldn’t worry too much about Voyager, it’ll be out of our solar system shortly and of no concern to or worry the inhabitants of ‘Mother Earth.’

  3. LW, and Soutie.

    I’ve read too much science fiction to believe that mankind spreading into the universe would be a Good Thing, but I do sometimes think that we are rather guilty of messing up our own small planet, and we should perhaps sort this out first.

    I’m not a scientist, though. πŸ™‚

  4. Perhaps they should have powered the thing with used disposable nappies, which apparently have a half-life comparable with uranium. Would have solved the disposable nappy problem too – the wrong side of the Solar System is probably the best place for them.


  5. Hello Soutie: You are right the vessel is conventionally propelled (Hydrazine) and apparently it still has some fuel, a change of attitude was made recently to turn the spacecraft into the “Solar Wind”. It picked up a great deal of its velocity by flying a slingshot trajectory around one of the big planets -Saturn?

    The instrument power is provided using a nuclear heat source and generated by a “Seebeck Effect” thermocouple. As you say these thermocouples are common in appliance control. The Seebeck effect is fully reversible and portable coolers/fridges are available that use the same method (solid state cooling) to cool the interior and keep your tinnies cold on a long trip in the bakkie.

    Voyager has its own website


  6. Anyone who does not realise the importance of this achievement must be missing something. Unless mankind keeps looking to extend the boundaries of knowledge, we might as well give up.

    BTW It would never be allowed to have a nuclear power plant on it today. It would have to be wind powered!

  7. FEEG.

    I agree, I must be missing something, but then nuclear power is great, forgetting the disposal problems of the waste product, but less so the bomb perhaps?

    Anything is better than wind-powered, perhaps, which is a horrible joke, but it’s now the flavour of the month!

  8. Four-eyed English Genius :

    BTW It would never be allowed to have a nuclear power plant on it today. It would have to be wind powered!

    Not quite FEEG, once again to avoid confusion among cherished colleagues NASA do put nuclear power on it’s current craft, just not on the stuff that orbits earth and might in the future fall back, that would be bad for PR.

    NASA’s latest toy Curiosity is nuclear powered, this explains it quite nicely…

    “When the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars yesterday, a specially designed nuclear generator kicked into action.

    Previous Mars missions have relied on solar panels to power the rovers, but exploration was slowed down by dust build-up on the solar panels or short winters days with little sunlight. The Curiosity Rover, which is as big as a large car, is also significantly larger and ten times heavier than previous Martian rovers.

    Enter the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG, an energy source that relies on the heat generated by decaying plutonium dioxide to run Curiosity.


    It’s very similar to Voyager power sources, it’s thought that Curiosity’s power plant will last anything from 2 -14 years (but then again Voyager’s is still running albeit faintly 35 years after launch!)

    Oh, and one other difference is that Curiosity’s plutonium comes from Russia whereas Voyager’s was all American πŸ˜‰

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