Running Out of Time

People right at my age grew up at the very tail-end of the Space Age. In the late 70s we weren’t too far removed from the glory days of the Apollo program. I remember our school library being stocked with cool books about both the missions to the moon, and others that focused on theoretical trips beyond the moon that seemed imminently possible in 1978. With the Space Shuttle program in full gear in the early 80s, it was a fairly regular occurrence for the big TVs to be wheeled into our classrooms so we could watch the latest launch or landing.

I also remember learning about the Voyager missions, which in the late 70s had just begun. Their time scale seemed so far into the future: they wouldn’t complete their intersections with the known planets until 1989!

Of course, now the original mission for the Voyager crafts is much further in the past than it was into the future back then. This New York Times Magazine look at the team that still run the Voyager program is fascinating. Like so many things over time, at some point it becomes more costly to train new people to join the program than the return on that investment. So the team is filled with people who have spent almost their entire adult lives monitoring and caring for the Voyager crafts, and those folks are steadily peeling off due to retirement.

Baring a collision with another object, the probes will continue to race through space for billions of years. But NASA’s lifeline to them will run out in the very near future, closing a door on a huge chapter of our space history.

I highly recommend reading through this.

The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe