Launched on September 5, 1977, with a mission to explore the outer Solar System, she is currently the farthest spacecraft – indeed, the farthest human-made object – in the entire universe.
Her name is Voyager 1.
It has taken Voyager 1 forty years to get where she is now which is 13 billion miles away from Earth. She has travelled alone to interstellar space – the space between stars – and she is still taking orders and phoning home daily!
Voyager 1 has been traveling through the known heavens for most of my lifetime. After she had completed her primary mission at the Jovian and Saturnian systems, astronomer Carl Sagan apparently pleaded with NASA to command her to turn her cameras toward Earth and snap a picture from that very great expanse of space. Finally, NASA agreed. The result was humbling to say the least. For the first time ever, we saw our home planet as but a tiny speck of light in an enormous expanse of indifferent space.
It was possibly the greatest exercise in perspective ever conducted. When photographed from close by, Earth looks rather special, a living, breathing superstar, all blue and white marble, with her devoted moon hanging over her shoulder.
From 3.7 billion miles away, however, Earth appears to be totally insignificant in the grand scheme of things – just another pale dot of light in a sea of blackness.
To Earth, the rest of the Universe is basically saying, “Ya, no one cares.”
Having taught us a cosmic lesson in humility, Voyager 1 sailed on toward interstellar space, defying all expectations regarding her lifespan. When she runs out of gas (a.k.a plutonium) in about 2025, we will not be able to communicate with her anymore, but she will still be out there, orbiting the centre of the Milky Way for billions of years to come.
Voyager 1 will outlast even us. Eventually, she could be the only remaining trace of human civilization in the known Universe. It’s as if she has been trying to tell us this all along.
“I see you. I know you. I am you.”
The featured image is a poster of Voyager by NASA.