Sunday, July 4, 2010

Voyager Probes and the Flags They Carry

"American Flag Farthest From Home Is Leaving Solar System" (July 3, 2010)

"This July 4th, U.S. citizens around the world may proudly display American flags to celebrate Independence Day while away from home, but they won't hold a candle to the farthest American flag in history, which is leaving the entire solar system behind on NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft.

"The spaceflying American flag is a not a huge version of Old Glory, but will be the only one flying more than 10.5 billion miles (16.9 billion km) from Earth this Fourth of July. It is riding on Voyager 1, a 33-year-old space probe on the outskirts of our solar system.

"Another far-flung American flag is flying on Voyager 2, which is about 8.6 billion miles (13.8 billion km) from Earth. Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are on trajectories to leave the solar system behind after passing through a magnetic bubble-like region called the heliosphere...."

About the photo:

"John Casani, Voyager project manager in 1977, shows of a small Dacron flag that was folded and sewed into the thermal blankets of the Voyager spacecraft before they launched 33 years ago. Voyager 2 stands behind him before heading to the launch pad in August 1977. ... Credit: NASA/JPL"

The Voyager spacecraft have sent back data for scientists - information that's particularly valuable since their observations have been made from such a great distance. At this point, the two Voyager probes - and the flags they carry - are the farther out than any other human-built object.

They set new distance records every hour, but since we use a base-ten numbering system, we're inclined to see some records as more important than others.

"...On June 28, Voyager 2 hit a major milestone when it marked the 12,000th day of its mission. Voyager one, which launched later than its counterpart, will hit the same milestone on July 13.

" 'I'm proud of the people who worked on this and put so much of their life and energy into building, developing and flying that thing,' Casani said. 'They did it right.' "

Couldn't have put it better, myself.

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