The fastest device ever made by humans (edit, well not really, the Helios solar probes were faster, thanks for the correction K3r3n) and the one that is the furthest away from Earth is about to leave the region dominated by the sun and enter the interstellar medium. Fare thee well Voyager 1.
NASA doesn’t always get things right, but when they do, they bloody well get it right.
The 2 Voyager spacecraft are damn near as old as I am. Voyager 1 is the fastest thing ever built by man, trucking along at 17 kilometers per second. That translates to just over 32,000 miles per hour. It is also the furthest thing that we have ever sent into space; a little over 10 billion kilometers away. It is a 119 times farther away from the sun than the Earth is.
These are pretty stunning number since it was intended that this spacecraft take a quick tour of the solar system. What’s even more amazing is that we are still sending commands to the craft and it still not only taking instrument readings and send the results back to us, but it can still maneuver (a little bit).
In March of this year, NASA asked Voyager 1 to rotate to get some instrument readings of the solar wind. The ship was able to fire it’s thrusters and rotate exactly 70 degrees. That’s pretty impressive considering that the last time NASA asked it to maneuver was over 20 years prior to that in 1990 (when it took a family portrait of the Solar System, including the Pale Blue Dot).
Voyager has enough power to keep sending signals back to Earth for a few more years. Scientists estimate that Voyager will no longer be able to communicate after some point between 2025-2030. NASA will have to start shutting down science instruments in about 2020 though.
The Voyagers and the lesser known Pioneers have given us some real science, answered some real questions, and (as proper for any scientific endeavor) raised thousands more. They are a stunning achievement of the power of the human mind and what we can do when we set our minds to it.