Voyager 1 was launched into space in 1977 to reach Jupiter and Saturn, but now, after 35 years of sailing away from space, the spacecraft is about to become the first man-made object to leave the solar system.
At the time that NASA launched Voyager 1 along with its partner Voyager 2, no one knew how long it would live in space, The Associated Press reported. It turns out that after traveling billions of miles through space, Voyager 1 would reach the fringes of the solar system becoming the longest-operating spacecraft and also the one farthest from Earth.
“We’re anxious to get outside and find what’s out there,” said Ed Stone, who has worked on Voyager 1 since its launch.
Once Voyager 1 crosses the bubble that marks the edge of the solar system, it will reach what scientists believe is a calmer environment in the Milky Way. It has already made other space breakthroughs. By late 2004, Voyager 1 had crossed the termination shock, which is where the speed of the solar wind drops below the speed of sound, NASA noted.
The trip is even more amazing considering Voyager 1’s level of technology. As a relic of the early space age, the spacecraft carried just 68 kilobytes of computer memory. By comparison, the smallest iPod has 8-gigabytes of memory, about 100,000 times more powerful.
Along the way, Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 beamed back some fantastic images like erupting volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and signs of water beneath the icy surface of one of the planet’s other moons, Europa. After the mission was completed, Voyager 1 used the gravitational pull of Saturn to fling itself toward the edge of the solar system.
Voyager 1 will be able to keep going until about 2020 when it runs out of fuel, but scientists hope it will be floating between the stars by then.