What weighs less than a minibus yet has travelled for hundreds of millions of kilometres? The Voyager 2 probe. ‘Ah’, I hear you say, but while a lot of people recognise the name few really know what this manmade marvel is all about.
Voyager 2 is a spacecraft built and launched by NASA to explore the outer reaches of our solar system. Launched by a giant Titan/Centaur rocket on the 20th August 1977, its primary role was to approach and study the two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, as well as the latter’s moon Titan, and then move on towards the outer ‘ice zone’ to explore the mysterious worlds of Uranus and Neptune.
Powered by what would be considered to be rudimentary equipment today, the Voyager 2 spacecraft is nonetheless a technical marvel, for it has successfully reached its objects – and more – orbiting, studying and relaying information about the so-called ‘ice giants’ before moving on and probing outer space.
Jupiter was reached in 1979, in the time it used to take mariners to cross oceans, and from this encounter NASA received invaluable impressions of the planet and its satellite moons ‘up close’.
Clearer images of its appearance were relayed to earth via the Deep Space Network of which one of the stations is incidentally located in Madrid.
In the process, we also learned more about the density of Jupiter, its atmospheric temperature, pressure and the composition of gasses that are highly toxic by our standards but make up its endless layers of thick, orange clouds.
The mysterious moving eye visible on Jupiter was confirmed to be a massive storm, but in reality the largest of many that torment this exotic world.
To go where no craft has gone before
This and many more reams of information were sent back to earth by this trusty little craft, and the process was repeated when Voyager 2 visited Saturn and Titan in 1981, Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989.
By the end of the decade, after twelve years of service and many millions of kilometres covered, the main, official part of the probe’s mission had been accomplished.
The scientists and engineers who created Voyager 2 back at NASA had hoped that their interplanetary exploration lab would continue beyond this original endeavour to probe the deep space unvisited by any manmade craft before…
Words Michel Cruz / Photography courtesy of NASA/JPL/USGS/JPL-Caltech