The Final Frontier? Perhaps not quite in a Star Trek sense, but breath-taking nevertheless.
According to data from the Voyager 1 probe it has crossed, or is crossing, the boundary between our own Solar System and interstellar space. For the first time in our history we can claim to have carried out a space mission beyond our own “local neighborhood”.
Through multiple “layers” wrapped around the sun like onion skins–the Heliosphere, Heliopause, Heliosheath and Bow Shock– the probe has made its long nuclear-powered journey to the very edge of our Sun’s influence and is passing into the void between the stars.
However, unlike the USS Enterprise which zooms between star systems in anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours (depending on plot requirements), Voyager has taken thirty-five years to reach this milestone. Imagine that: a mission lasting half a lifetime! The planning and science required to achieve such a goal are almost too complex to comprehend and yet we did it. We should all hold our heads high knowing that somewhere out there a very small piece of us is reaching out to the stars.
One of the amazing aspects of Voyager’s design that seems almost absurd now is the level of technology on board. The main “brain” of the probes is powered by RCA CD4000 integrated circuits and was far less powerful than the kind of technology you’d now find in a cheap watch!
There have been many milestone events but perhaps none more amazing than the “Pale Blue Dot” picture – a picture of Earth from nearly four billion miles away, “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”.