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Voyager 1 Fires Up Thrusters After 37 Years (nasa.gov)
268 points by colanderman 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

The article mentions the thrusters used are the Aerojet Rocketdyne MR-103 [0]. They look pretty delicate, but only need to provide about 1N of thrust. Visually I was expecting something like the MR-107S in the same datasheet.

I ended up getting voyager "golden record" LPs for a friend's bday [1], which was a pretty neat present. Turns out her bf's uncle produced one of those records in the 90's.

[0] http://www.rocket.com/files/aerojet/documents/Capabilities/P...

[1] http://www.ozmarecords.com/product/voyager-golden-record-3xl...

Here's a photo album of producing the original golden record, followed by its visual contents. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasa-jpl/sets/7215767618791618...

I would love to read a story about aliens finding the records and trying to decode them. Personally, I find the image encoding impossible to understand.

There was a reddit post today showing the picture of the naked humans and the quasar map to earth... the caption was - maybe the reason aliens haven't contacted us is that we sent unsolicited nudes and directions to our house.

Googled, but couldn't find the cartoon that showed an alien family (looking every bit like Ward Cleaver's family) looking at the Pioneer plaque while one of the alien children says, "They look like us except they don't wear any clothes."

Maybe an old Scientific American or issue of OMNI magazine....

A related, but slightly different take:


Isn’t that what the whole first Star Trek movie was about? It created a miscommunication, to say the least.

There was also a great original series episode with a similar plot, in which Spock performs a Vulcan mind meld with a machine:


After reading the Three Body Problem It feels like encoding our exact location might not have been the smartest move :)

An earlier HN link discusses the idea that the pulsar map is useless anyway.

See: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15044698

IIRC Hawking expressed concerns about that: if we were to be found by a more advanced civilization, then we would in all likelihood be ultimately destroyed, because there seems to be a recurring pattern showing that this is what happens when a higher civilization meets a less advanced one.


I'd be inclined to agree with #11, in that domination is always motivated by resources, and aliens visiting earth would likely already have all the resources they need. I'd hope they are motivated by curiosity more than trying to get hydrocarbons or whatever.

"Status: Flight Proven" -- fair enough! ;)

That's a really cool gift.

Do you know if there are any DIY attempts to recover the data from these replica records?

The records produced by Ozma are standard LP records and contain only the audio elements. The actual voyager records used a non-standard encoding and rotation speed, and as far as I know only NASA has a copy from the original pressing.

From the Voyager FAQ (https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/frequently-asked-questions/)

Even if science data won't likely be collected after 2025, engineering data could continue to be returned for several more years. The two Voyager spacecraft could remain in the range of the Deep Space Network through about 2036, depending on how much power the spacecraft still have to transmit a signal back to Earth.

They'll definitely keep collecting science data until it no longer transmits. They keep closing in on ending data collection and then scrounge up funding. It's a human milestone, we'll listen until the end. That said, when the digital world ends in 2038 it'll be moot anyway, but we'll record our stellar wanderer's name on stone tablets.

Luckily the Voyager software is not vulnerable (& can be remotely updated).

See also previous discussion from 3 months ago https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15827369 (260 comments)

Posts like these are fascinating, but constant comments like these just take me entirely out of the story:

> [far away from earth,] there's no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up.

Did someone from marketing write this to dumb it down or something? It seems so random when two sentences down they talk about milliseconds and assembler language without explaining the terms.

I found this kind of odd and distracting too. You either go full nerd or no nerd, not half and half.

”Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years.”

Is the lack of precision on the date because they don’t know precisely where the boundary of interstellar space is?

Yes. This is based on Voyager 1's heliopause exit back in 2012 at 121 AU. It is presently at about 141 AU.

Voyager 2 is at at about 117 AU now.

The uncertainty in "the next few years" statement is because of the assumption is that the heliopause will occur at roughly the same distance that Voyager 1 found it at.

Whomever collects this piece of 'space junk' in the far distant future would be puzzled how that every power source had been eeked out and used, with no remaining systems functional they will wonder how it got to that state. To them it will be like one of those bicycles that has no brakes, a couple of punctures and no working gears - how did it get there, what broke first?

Anybody who can come up with a method of "collecting" it that doesn't smash it into millions of unidentifiable tiny pieces is probably smart enough to figure out the rest!

It would be interesting if humans in a distant future figured out how to traverse vast distances of space quickly and then stumbled upon voyager 1 and the golden disc. I imagine by that time everything they see on that disc may seem very foreign to them.

(December 2017)

Original submittal, 740+ points: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15827369

Obligatory :) https://xkcd.com/1189/

Neat timing on this resubmit. I just watched The Farthest on a flight this week. It's a neat movie that gives interesting (and human) context to the mission and those who executed it. I'd definitely recommend it as a watch for anyone even nominally interested in space exploration.

This article piqued my interest in Aerojet!

Reading the Wikipedia entry, I was stuck by how the founders list control of their firm, "Unhappily for us, no bank would lend us money; bankers hadn’t yet come to think of rocketry as a stable business."

Interestingly, a tire company acquired majority control!

So, if you are ever in Miami, you can take a 45 minute drive down to their old facility at the edge of the Everglades in Homestead. Bring/rent a mountain bike because the last 2 miles are closed road. Great place to run.

Even cooler, there is still a test missile in a silo in one of the remaining structures. There is all sorts of interesting rusting hulks out there.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerojet#Florida_facility_and_c...

[2] http://www.abandonedfl.com/aerojet-dade/

"that was coded in an outdated assembler language" LOL, that's just a sad statement.

Can anyone explain to me why is this being downvoted? I have coded in assembly since the 1970's and still do today. It is essential for some tasks and when these spacecraft were designed, it was the obvious choice. I just don't understand why NASA would call it "outdated".

"an outdated assembler language"

While I think many folks here would argue that assembler is outdated in general, the specific form of assembler used in the Voyager probe is probably considered outdated by any reasonable standard.

> While I think many folks here would argue that assembler is outdated in general

Assembly is not outdated in general, it's just outdated as a human interface for big CISC programs. If you are working on very small micro-controllers it's not even necessarily outdated as a human interface since you might be working on a much more minimal platform in which case it's important you understand exactly what's going on.

What was probably meant in the article is that the particular assembly used in the CPUs of the CCS at the time is quite different compared to various modern micro-controller assembly (not compared to CISC like x86 or even ARM which are almost completely different beasts).

Sometimes these projects have custom silicon and so are even quite different to other commercial chips of the same era... Having a quick google, the CCS was NASAs first redundant computer, having two of everything, but at a fairly low level unlike say the mars rover with it's triple redundancy basically at the "whole computer" level. Interesting stuff, I wish there was more info available about all the details of these machines.

Maybe because they have less and less people who know how to read and program with this particular assembly language?

The program was written more than 40 years ago, most of the people who wrote it are probably retired now.

Also, it's not a "mainstream but old CPU" like a Z80 or a 6502, given the constrains of a space probe it's probably more a custom thing developped specifically for these (kinds of) missions.

Some information on CPUs used in spacecraft


Great link!

How old do you have to be to be retired en mass? I'm in my early 50s, first assembler was 6502, second s/370. I'm going strong as a dev. That was a misleading comment "outdated assembly language", but assembly is less common than in the past.

The launch was in 1977, the construction of the probes started in 1975. So it's between 41 to 43 years ago.

If you were a young engineer at the time, let say 22, you are now 65 years old, if you were 30, you are now 73.

So there is a good chance that people who worked on the design and creation of these probes are now retired, except maybe for the youngers (25 and less or the time).

It's absolutly not a statement against young versus old. By 68 years old, I hope to be retired ^^.

And it doesn't take into account that the computer system is derived from the Vikings probes, so it's even a bit older than that.

As for the assembly language, I don't think they are stating that assembly is outdated by itself. I think that they are more stating that the assembly language used for these probes, custom and purpose made for these probes, coming fom the 70ies, is now outdated.

And assembly can still be a very legitimate choice, specially in highly constrained domains and high safety assurance requirements (even trusting a compiler is a risk).

Thank you. I was beginning to feel old. I am also in my early fifties. I spent a long time with PPS-4, 8080, Z80, 6809, 8051, and many others. These days I work primarily with Microchip PICs, and still program in assembly fairly often.

I never use assembly these days, it's all C++ and before that Java. The only assembly I see is in the debugger and I occasionally look at it and is that left to right or right to left on x86 :-) Let's see, the best assembly was s/370, right? I am pretty sure the destination was on the left. and on x86, does it move right? They got everything else wrong on it :-)

According to this article, most of the code was written in FORTRAN (which is, yeah, pretty old, but is still in widespread use -- you can definitely still hire FORTRAN programmers).


Now, the compiler back end for the CPU may not exist any more, but I wouldn't think that would be all that hard to reproduce.

Maybe the toolchain no longer runs on modern architectures?

They could use an old system or emulate.

This reminds me of those many YouTube vidoes showing extremely old machinery such as cars being started after many decades of inactivity. There's a certain indescribable feeling when something like this happens.


And yet my phone can't last three full years.

Your phone will be outdated and replaced in three years. Hard to replace a probe in space. For this reason it is a good idea to design phones to last 3 years and space probs to last decades.

I've seen this article mentioned on several sites. The title is terrible, misleading clickbait that seem to indicate that the Voyager 1 has been unresponsive for 37 years. What nonsense! This is really about how NASA found they could use a set of thrusters that had been idle for 37 years. A much better discussion can be found at this NASA page:


Thanks, I've edited the title to match NASA's. (Can't change the URL though.)

Excellent. It's a great story about how amazing the Voyager spacecraft are and I'm glad to see it getting a lot of attention, even with click-bait titles!

Thanks! And the original message is from 12/2017.

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