Friday, May 24, 2024

Voyager 1 Returning Science Data Again

NASA's Voyager office posted on Wednesday, May 22, that Voyager 1 has started returning science data from its few working instruments for the first time since its November computer memory failure that crippled the probe - the man-made object farthest from Earth in history. 

Voyager 1 has resumed returning science data from two of its four instruments for the first time since a computer issue arose with the spacecraft in November 2023. The mission’s science instrument teams are now determining steps to recalibrate the remaining two instruments, which will likely occur in the coming weeks. The achievement marks significant progress toward restoring the spacecraft to normal operations.
The plasma wave subsystem and magnetometer instrument are now returning usable science data. As part of the effort to restore Voyager 1 to normal operations, the mission is continuing work on the cosmic ray subsystem and low energy charged particle instrument. (Six additional instruments aboard Voyager 1 are either no longer working or were turned off after the probe’s flyby of Saturn.)

Regular readers will recall that back in November, Voyager suddenly started acting like something was seriously wrong. I likened it to the probe having had a stroke, although that's too anthropomorphic. The probe seemed to take commands and respond, it still kept its position and kept the data link back to Earth running, it's just that the replies it sent back were more like incoherent ramblings. It's as if Voyager had said its uncle had been eaten by cannibals before the mission started, only less coherent than that.

It took until March before Voyager successfully responded to a command to send back the contents of its memory and the programmers understood how to work around it. 

Launched in August and September of 1977 and coming up on their 47th year in space, it should be clear that the time the two Voyagers have left may not be as long as we might like. The next time a component dies, it may have more dire effects that preclude a fix like this, simply by having the spacecraft lose its ability to point its antenna back to Earth. 

As the first man-made objects to leave the solar system, as relics of America's early space program, and as testaments to how robust even decades-old technology can be, the Voyagers have carved out the kind of legacy usually reserved for remarkable things lost to time. There seems to a widespread interest in and affection for the two deep space probes. Voyager 2 isn't as far away because it spent more time investigating our solar system. 

Project engineers report that no one on the team was particularly excited or depressed about the failure, always believing they could repair it.

"We're confident that we can get back to business as usual soon, but we also know that we're dealing with an aging spacecraft that is bound to have trouble again in the future. That's just a fact of life on this mission, so not worth getting worked up about."


  1. Look, we definitely got our money's worth out of BOTH probes. Keep on Truckin' until your shorts rip right up the back, guys 'n gals!
    What a ride!

  2. “Don’t be stupid enough to launch in a thunderstorm!” ~ Dick Gordon

  3. Cool. Happen to catch a short viewing on PBS story this morning showing the launch back in 77. Man that seems like centuries ago to me now