The voyager

Ed Stone joined NASA’s Voyager mission as project scientist in 1972. I was 14 months old. Since then the twin Voyager probes have launched; explored the gas giants of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune; and are now on the brink of breaking into interstellar space. I’m still on Earth.

The Voyagers were, and are, an astonishing mission. They didn’t just rewrite textbooks about the outer solar system; they were the textbooks. Throughout the 1980s the Voyagers sent back discovery after discovery, from Io’s sulfur volcanoes to Triton’s otherworldly ices.

Now they are tasked with interstellar exploration. Voyager 1 is so far from Earth that it takes more than 17 hours to send a signal there — traveling at light speed — and more than 17 hours to return. The probe will probably break free of the sun’s influence and emerge into true interstellar space sometime in the next several years. Voyager is our most distant emissary, the only manmade thing to have ever journeyed so far.

My feature on Ed Stone and the Voyagers (doesn’t that sound like a great band name?) appears in the 23 May issue of Nature.