The story of the men and women who drove NASA’s Voyager spacecraft mission—the farthest-flung emissaries of planet Earth—told by a scientist who was there from the beginning.
Voyager 1 left our solar system in 2012; its sister craft, Voyager 2, did so in 2018. The fantastic journey began in 1977, before the first episode of Cosmos aired. The mission was planned as a grand tour beyond the moon; beyond Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune; and maybe even into interstellar space. The fact that it actually happened makes this humanity’s greatest space mission.
In The Interstellar Age, award-winning planetary scientist Jim Bell reveals what drove and continues to drive the members of this extraordinary team, including Ed Stone, Voyager’s chief scientist and the one-time head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab; Charley Kohlhase, an orbital dynamics engineer who helped to design many of the critical slingshot maneuvers around planets that enabled the Voyagers to travel so far; and the geologist whose Earth-bound experience would prove of little help in interpreting the strange new landscapes revealed in the Voyagers’ astoundingly clear images of moons and planets.
Speeding through space at a mind-bending eleven miles a second, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are now beyond our solar system’s planets, the first man-made objects to go interstellar. By the time Voyager passes its first star in about 40,000 years, the gold record on the spacecraft, containing various music and images including Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” will still be playable.
*An ALA Notable Book of 2015*
Bell (The Space Book), president of the Planetary Society, delivers a lucid account of the magnificent scientific accomplishments of the Voyager Missions with a cheerfulness that it deserves. Both probes were launched in 1977; Voyager 1 left the solar system in 2013, after returning breathtaking photographs of the outer planets, and Voyager 2 will do so in a few years. They should be able to "stay in communication with Earth and operate at least one instrument until sometime around 2025." The Voyager probes exploited a rare alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, which made it possible for a single spacecraft to pass by all four. Approved in 1972 after more ambitious probes were rejected, their construction was a miracle of improvisation by workaholic engineers and brilliant project managers, working with budgets so inadequate that some defects were not fixed after it was decided they would not spoil the mission. Bell describes the flybys, which produced an avalanche of new discoveries, but he gives equal space to the craft themselves, whose instruments (analog tapes, feeble computers) are museum curiosities today. Nevertheless, they worked to a marvelous degree, and readers will have no trouble sharing Bell's exuberance at a remarkable human accomplishment.