Voyager 2 at 12,000 Days: The Super-Marathon Continues

June 29, 2010, JPL/NASA
This artist's rendering depicts NASAs Voyager 2 spacecraft as it studies the outer limits of the heliosphere - a magnetic 'bubble' around the solar system that is created by the solar wind. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

( -- NASA's plucky Voyager 2 spacecraft has hit a long-haul operations milestone today -- operating continuously for 12,000 days.

For nearly 33 years, the venerable spacecraft has been returning data about the giant outer planets, and the characteristics and interaction of between and beyond the planets. Among its many findings, Voyager 2 discovered Neptune's Great Dark Spot and its 450-meter-per-second (1,000-mph) winds.

The two have been the longest continuously operating spacecraft in deep space. Voyager 2 launched on August 20, 1977, when Jimmy Carter was president. Voyager 1 launched about two weeks later on Sept. 5. The two spacecraft are the most distant human-made objects, out at the edge of the heliosphere -- the bubble the sun creates around the solar system. Mission managers expect Voyager 1 to leave our solar system and enter interstellar space in the next five years or so, with Voyager 2 on track to enter interstellar space shortly after that.

Having traveled more than 21 billion kilometers (13 billion miles) on its winding path through the planets toward , the spacecraft is now nearly 14 billion kilometers (9 billion miles) from the sun. A signal from the ground, traveling at the speed of light, takes about 12.8 hours one-way to reach Voyager 2.

Voyager 1 will reach this 12,000-day milestone on July 13, 2010 after traveling more than 22 billion kilometers (14 billion miles). is currently more than 17 billion kilometers (11 billion miles) from the sun.

The Voyagers were built by JPL, which continues to operate both spacecraft. Caltech manages JPL for .

Explore further: Engineers Diagnosing Voyager 2 Data System (Update)

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2 / 5 (1) Jun 29, 2010
I really wonder why the recent probes weren't built as these two were. Think about all the science we could now have on Jupiter, Venus and other planets if those craft were as durable and long lasting as these!
3.5 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2010
Yeah but that was back in the day when the space race was a big deal and we weren't afraid to send nuclear material into space. You know the good ol' days
Jun 29, 2010
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not rated yet Jun 29, 2010
Nuclear reactors are bad, cause they're bad, ummkay.

Tautological loops are entirely unsatisfying. Nuclear reactors come in a wide variety of types, sizes, and capabilities. Saying that nuclear reactors are all bad is like saying radiation is all bad. This denies the reality of millions alive today because of the medical uses of radiation. All those isotopes originated in a reactor somewhere.

The types of reactors in satellites are orders of magnitude safer than any other types of reactors.

You might want to discuss what would happen if the reactors didn't reach orbit, but modern space types can be shot out of a cannon into plate steel and not burst.
not rated yet Jun 29, 2010
I really wonder why the recent probes weren't built as these two were. Think about all the science we could now have on Jupiter, Venus and other planets if those craft were as durable and long lasting as these!

Yeah, today's probes are made for a specific purpose, and generally not designed to last long after that, though some Mars probes have lasted surprisingly long on the Martian surface.

Also the Voyager probes were launched when the planets of the solar system were lined up in a particular order that made it possible for them to gravitationally "slingshot" their way past the planets at incredible speeds for a man-made object, letting them get as far as they are today in only a few decades. :)
not rated yet Jun 29, 2010
Yeah. Same comment. Isn't it time we send the next generation of such crafts out into space? Specially since if we launch today maybe our children will be able to do science with them.

If we wait for the voyagers to go bust before we launch the next generation, only our grandchildren will be able to harness some science out of the new crafts.

@J23 - Maybe we can send the modern crafts at much greater speeds than the voyagers?
not rated yet Jun 30, 2010
No one mentions the data anomaly between the two probes?

Any updates?
not rated yet Jun 30, 2010
@LariAnn, J23, abhishekbt,

I'm not sure what your point is. The Voyager probes were built for a specific purpose, that being exploration of the outer planets by means of flybys. Like the Pioneer 10 & 11 probes before the, RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectric generators) were necessary due to the feebleness of sunlight past Jupiter's orbit. Once their primary planetary missions were completed, these probes began extended, secondary missions. Any data gathered after their planetary flybys was icing on the cake, so to speak.

Like the Galileo probe sent to Jupiter, Cassini (@Saturn) will be intentionally destroyed(by atmospheric reentry) in order to avoid possible contamination of the moons of these planets. New Horizons does have an extended mission beyond Pluto, but this too is secondary. The only difference I can see with the newer missions is vastly improved technology, always a given due to the length of these missions to the outer solar system. (con't)
not rated yet Jun 30, 2010

Are you maybe proposing new missions dedicated to study the outer solar system (beyond Neptune) or a interstellar mission? By necessity these would be long duration missions, but any data collected would be invaluable. I, too, would like to see missions of this sort, but funding is (as usual) hard to come by. But we can hope.
not rated yet Jun 30, 2010
Lowest bidder rather than most qualified and interestead is the reason we are in a mess of economic and exploratory doldrums. Just imagine that pople who think they at a job are now scientists. If I had the ability to escape the rat race and be a scientist my outlook on work would not be work. I would be at home 24/7 like our fathers before us.

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