Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Space Science

Voyager and the Coming Great Hiatus In Deep Space 238

Posted by timothy
from the great-non-disturbance-in-the-force dept.
MatthewVD writes "Some time in the next decade, the Voyager probes will run out of juice and finally go silent after almost a half century of exploration. John Rennie writes that the lack of any meaningful effort to follow up with a mission to interstellar space shows the "fragile, inconsistent state of space exploration." It's particularly frustrating since the Voyagers have tantalized astronomers with a glimpse into about how the sun's magnetic field protects us from (or exposes us to) cosmic rays. Have we gone as far as we're willing to go in space?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Voyager and the Coming Great Hiatus In Deep Space

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:34PM (#39682575)

    VEEEE GERRRRRR!

    • How many years already the Voyager spacecraft kept sending us valuable data?

      And it does all that without any of the super-gigaherz chips nor gigabytes of RAM nor terabits/s connection devices

      On the other hand, do you think your iPad will last 5 years?

      • by davydagger (2566757) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:54AM (#39682973)
        consumer products != space grade industrial products.

        before you start talking about modern consumer electronics which are the best they've ever been, think about consumer grade hardware in the 1990s.

        boot times where 5+ min. never worked right. plug and play didn't work, no standards on HW.Drivers sucked.

        sheet, we got it easy today.

        • by VVrath (542962) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:40AM (#39683829)

          boot times where 5+ min. never worked right. plug and play didn't work, no standards on HW.Drivers sucked.

          Those things may have been true of (IBM Compatible) PCs in the early 1990s, but my Amiga would definitely beg to differ.

          • My Commodore 64 would agree with your Amiga, my C64 and almost all of my 5 1/4 inch disks are still readable and the hardware still works. I used it over 10 years straight and then off and on since then. The hardware still runs great, I even has video game console for the 70s that still work. Modern electronic seem to stink in some ways, maybe just to small to last....
      • The Voyager spacecraft computers are some of the last active computers in the Solar System still using hand-wrapped core memory. I think that says more about the space probe than almost anything else. There might be a couple museums which fire up a computer every now and again with such a memory module, but this is certainly the last one in a production environment. It shows how rugged that kind of design really can be.

        Then again, saying it is the last one in the Solar System may not even be accurate, so it might just simply be said it is the last one currently running in the Milky Way Galaxy... unless we meet some alien races to dispute that fact.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:55AM (#39683867) Journal

        On the other hand, do you think your iPad will last 5 years?

        In five years, you will be able to get a new one with a higher resolution display, a much faster processor, much more RAM and storage space, and support for the latest mobile network standards. Your current model can do more processing in an hour than the computer on the Voyager probes can do in a year.

        In contrast, the Voyager probes were very expensive to produce one-off products and are in a location that is almost impossible - and totally impractical - to service or even get replacement parts to. In other words,they were both built with completely different sets of design requirements.

      • How many years already the Voyager spacecraft kept sending us valuable data?

        And it does all that without any of the super-gigaherz chips nor gigabytes of RAM nor terabits/s connection devices

        On the other hand, do you think your iPad will last 5 years?

        Did the ipad 3 cost hundreds of millions of dollars? Did the voyager spacecraft have to fit into a purse?

      • by Gilmoure (18428)

        Sure.

      • by flyneye (84093)

        Necessity is a mother.

        If it becomes necessary to come, they will build it.

        I will see it when I believe it.

  • Indeed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Creedo (548980) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:36PM (#39682585) Journal
    In regards to funding such efforts, Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said:

    “Without it, we might as well slide back to the cave, because that’s where we’re headed right now — broke.”

    It's rather pathetic that we are willing to waste untold amounts of resources on mindless violence, and yet let programs which could further our knowledge of the universe sit unused on the drawing board.

    • by tomhath (637240)
      Yes, in a perfect world we would all get along and use resources with infinite wisdom. It's worth working to try and get closer to that utopia, but until we reach it there are other considerations. Cave men were probably pissed when they invented the perfect technique for hunting deer, only to be eaten by a lion as they dragged it back to the cave.
    • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:59PM (#39682723)

      I'm 35 years old and the most exciting events in space exploration to happen in my life time have been two space shuttles exploding and killing the astronauts, sticking a station in space (that is at the end of its life already), and sticking a little RC car on mars. My parents and grandparents? They had the space race. First man in space. First space walk. First moon landing. In their life times, the world stopped to watch for news of events as they unfolded in space. In our life time, nobody knows the name of any astronauts and the only time there is coverage is when something explodes.

      We will have no glorious moments like our parents and grandparents. There will be no amazing massive exploration event in our life time. People are more worried about potholes and "banning" gay sex than they are about furthering the progress of all mankind. So stop getting your hopes up that anything amazing is going to happen. For all intents and purposes, space exploration is dead.

      • Re:Indeed (Score:4, Interesting)

        by sprior (249994) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:13AM (#39682785) Homepage

        I'm 46 and I grew up with Star Trek, the World Trade Center, the Concorde, and the space shuttle. How's that working out...

        • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Interesting)

          by qu33ksilver (2567983) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @01:52AM (#39683221)
          Good one. But I'd say that voyager has to be one of the most ambitious projects ever made. I mean a space probe that would keep going deeper and deeper into space for years to come. Thats something to be excited about. Carl Sagan said "If the space is a big ocean lying out there, we have just started to dip our knees in the water". Well, I would want to swim as far as possible into it. Probably there are more important matters back here on Earth, but I would still go for another slice of space.
          • Re:Indeed (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Solandri (704621) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @11:35AM (#39685415)
            Voyagers 1 and 2 took advantage of a rare planetary alignment [wikipedia.org] which won't happen again until around 2150. Originally both spacecraft were supposed to visit all four outer planets, but Voyager 1 was sacrificed to get a closer look at Titan, which had recently been discovered to have an atmosphere. Without such an alignment, they wouldn't have been anywhere near as ambitious and quite possibly might not have even been built. Pioneer 11 didn't have such a favorable alignment and had to make an almost 180 degree direction change [wikimedia.org] to go from Jupiter to Saturn.

            So it wasn't that we were more ambitious about space exploration back in the 1970s when the Voyagers were launched. We just knew we were up against a hard deadline for an opportunity which wouldn't come again for 175 years, and scrambled to take advantage of it before the window closed.
        • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:38AM (#39683529) Journal

          I'm 46 and I grew up with Star Trek, the World Trade Center, the Concorde, and the space shuttle. How's that working out...

          Your comment sums up quite a lot. The fuck-ups started with defunding of Apollo in the early 1970s, and manned spaceflight has barely progressed since then. The shuttle made for a lot of nice launches and a couple of spectacular failures, but it only went to low Earth orbit. Programs like Hubble and Voyager and so on greatly expanded our knowledge of the universe, but damned little progress was made in manned spaceflight, despite pouring fortunes into a succession of boondoggles (Shuttle, Skylab, ISS, 'nuff said). Recall that even Voyager was just a scaled-back cheaper substitute for the Grand Tour [wikipedia.org].

          I'm only a few years older than you, but vividly remember the Apollo missions. As a kid in Europe, I stayed up weird hours to catch live transmissions from Apollo 8 to Apollo 17. I saw almost every single one of them, and if there had been consumer-level recording technology like today's, I and many others would have copies of those transmissions. I don't recall the Apollo 1 disaster (too young, I guess), but was riveted by the Apollo 13 near-disaster. The decision to cancel Apollo 18 to Apollo 20 was baffling to me then, and remains so today, 40 years later.

          Commitment was lost or lacking at a high enough level in U.S. political circles after Apollo reached its stated objective. After that, it was just a question of how soon the money could be diverted to political pork. And that's how NASA's budgets have been allocated ever since. Pork as the real objective, more pork as the means of attaining that objective, even more pork as the main spin-off, and a bit of science or space exploration as an unavoidable but incidental side effect. The objectives (pork) were always achieved successfully, even if the cover stories (science, space) ended in failure.

          • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:06AM (#39683589)
            Apollo was a gigantic PR stunt. The entire nation of the united states turning their collective backsides to the Soviet Union and dropping their pants. Without a political motivation, not many politicians can see the value in pure science. The only possibility I see for the US getting back into manned space exploration would be if China started making a really big deal about getting to Mars first, thus compelling a rapid defence of the American national penis size once again.
            • by bryan1945 (301828)

              I don't know if even that would be enough. Politicians used to give at least some shit of getting stuff done, now it's all polls and 'legacy building.' The last big thing a president has had happened on his watch was the Berlin Wall come down (I'd say caused but then it would be a big argument). OK, Gulf War 1 was doing something (helping the Kuwaitis). Since then, everything has been stupid (Gulf War 2) or just backing down to basically everyone.

      • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @01:58AM (#39683239)

        I don't mean to minimize any urgency to continue space exploration--it's important to lobby and press for pushing the envelope however we can.

        However, space exploration isn't dead.

        For many years I've been waiting, and continue to wait, for New Horizons to reach Pluto (http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/). Assuming this goes on as planned, it will be amazing to finally see Pluto and Charon -- something that, if I'm alive at that time, I can say I'm glad I lived to see. The fact they plan to continue the mission into the Kuiper belt is even more impressive. If anything's carrying the torch of Voyager and Pioneer at the moment, it's New Horizons. The way I feel about it now is similar to how I felt about Voyager meeting Uranus and Neptune in the 80s when I was a child.

        Another thing that's fascinating to me to see unfold is private spaceflight. The fact that there is a realistically burgeoning private spaceflight industry in the US is pretty damn amazing if you ask me, and I'm excited to see it continue.

        I'm all for large federally funded space exploration research (and research of all kinds) but I sometimes feel like there's a sky-is-falling narrative that's not quite right. Give credit where credit is due.

      • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:33AM (#39683679)

        Define amazing.

        To say that "sticking a little RC car on Mars" isn't an achievement is frankly incredibly insulting to the people that designed it. You want bigger? Look at the Mars Science Laboratory which is being dropped via rocket crane because it's so heavy. Quite honestly, sending things to the Moon is easy. Sending stuff to Mars is incredibly difficult and the staggering cost of developing human support systems to do it outweighs the enormous amount of robotic science you could do with the same amount of money.

        Oh and let's not forget that Voyager was never meant to end up in outer space. Initially it was meant to explore Jupiter and Saturn, but the mission was extended, extended and extended a bit more. And why not? The hardware was still functioning perfectly. Look at Spirit and Opportunity, they have massively outstayed their welcome on Mars thanks to the engineering that went into them.

        So what's out there now? Well, New Horizons is on its way to Pluto as I type with a presumed extension to visit the Kuiper belt afterwards. If they don't send that out of the solar system afterwards, I'd be very surprised. The mission is supposed to end in 2026, but who knows. The way you do something like this is have a mission in the solar system and then find a way to use the satellite after it's done doing your science.

        Oh and we're not slouching on launches either

        http://claudelafleur.qc.ca/Scfam-science.html#2011
        http://claudelafleur.qc.ca/Scfam-planetary.html#2011

        We're actually launching a lot more than we used to. The difference is we've got other things we're interested in rather than finding out what's in interstellar space - cool prospect as it is.

        There will always be new innovation in science and there will always be nostalgic people. What actually happens is somewhere in-between, science marches on, but the visible effects diminish. When we look at space science, you're comparing things that happened over a period of around 30-50 years ago. Think about life 50 years in the future. We will be recalling the days when we went from 2D graphics to 3D graphics, a time when the world wasn't connected via the internet, when a cellphone went from being bigger than a brick to smaller than a deck of cards. In 30 years what will have changed? Probably lots, but will anything in these fields ever rival these first steps?

      • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @06:09AM (#39683899) Journal

        My parents and grandparents? They had the space race. First man in space. First space walk. First moon landing

        In short, all of the easy stuff was done before you were born. Getting into orbit has gone from being something on the national news to something that happens so regularly that a vast amount of modern infrastructure depends on it. In fact, it's become so easy that we now worry about the amount of stuff in orbit.

        Once you've got into orbit, you're most of the way to the moon, in terms of energy usage. Going to other planets is harder, although we've done that with probes. But after that there's the question of motivation. There are lots of reasons to want to get into orbit - it's the ultimate high ground and gives you an unparalleled view of the Earth. Getting to the moon? Well, you can wave a flag, but after that it's a pretty uninteresting lump of rock. Mars? Even if it were made entirely of gold (or something actually useful, like refined uranium) then the cost involved in getting things back from there would make it largely uninteresting.

        And the step beyond that, travelling to other stars, doesn't just require better engineering, it requires new physics. If anyone works out how to build a superluminal engine, then you can bet that there will be a huge amount of funding devoted to building it, but until then the problem with space is finding something useful to do there. Even scientific missions are better done by small unmanned probes.

      • by bryan1945 (301828)

        We have Twitter and TMZ. Vast, vast improvement.

      • In our life time, nobody knows the name of any astronauts and the only time there is coverage is when something explodes.

        Welcome to the real world.

        That's the nature of exploration and expansion - everybody knows who Columbus was, but nobody knows the name of the guy(s) who actually surveyed and mapped the coast line. Or the guy(s) who went into the wilds to map. etc... etc...

        The problem with space exploration is people like you who live under the delusion that unless it's exciting and fuel

    • by manoweb (1993306)
      Tyson has a "big government spending" ideal of doing space exploration. While that could be one way to do it, it is simply too dependent on politics and public opinion, and it won't work.
    • Re:Indeed (Score:4, Insightful)

      by neonv (803374) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @01:50AM (#39683211)

      Mindless violence has unfortunately been the fuel for space exploration. The Germans in World War II developed the rockets that gave rise to putting satellites into orbit. The Cold War drove spending on space exploration out of fear of being destroyed from space. Men walked on the moon only from fear that the other super power would get there first. Now that there is no threat of war between super powers, there's no more fear that drives spending on space exploration. Though Space X and Virgin Galactic give some hope that things will change, it won't be at the same rate of development in the forseable future.

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      In regards to funding such efforts, Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said:

      "Without it, we might as well slide back to the cave, because that's where we're headed right now - broke."

      I don't know about space exploration, but Neil deGrasse Tyson's English sure is in bad shape.

  • by iPaul (559200) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:36PM (#39682591) Homepage

    The voyager spacecraft popping a plasma bubble and sending it to Earth, requiring a heard drinking high school physics teacher (played by Stephen Baldwin) and a heart-of-gold exotic dancer, but former Navy Seal (played by an anonymous starlet), to save the day.

  • by siddesu (698447) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:37PM (#39682595)

    There is virtually no interest in space among the many people I interact with, my customers, my suppliers, the other parents at school, or my neighbors. My interest in astronomy and space is regarded in the same manner as my telescopes, as a curiosity or mild eccentricity.

    I can't imagine that people like these will be willing to commit money, either as tax or investment, in furthering space research, not until they see something that affects them personally and requires return to space.

    On the positive side, this something can be anything, even a surprise threat from North Korean FTL probe leaving for Alpha Centauri.

    • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:57PM (#39682709)
      There virtually no interest in anything that isn't personally and obviously of benefit to Joe Average these days. If it isn't a new iPhone app or a new GPS option in their car, or a simpler way to get bigger breasts, or an indisputable cure for baldness, crow's feet, or liver-cancer, Joe Average doesn't want to hear about it and CERTAINLY won't want to pay for it.

      Ignorance is bliss, and as long as the digital TV signal carrying Jersey Shores is nice and strong, that's all the technology most people care for.

      It's the specials, the freaks, the weirdos who insist on dreaming and asking "what if". We read science fiction and speculative fiction, and we play games that model hypothetical situations and we desperately want to know MORE about many things. Even if human teleportation devices can't be invented in our lifetime, we want to see the steps as the precursor technology is built. But we're not normal.
      • by Tynin (634655)

        We are the music makers,
        And we are the dreamers of dreams,
        Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
        And sitting by desolate streams;—
        World-losers and world-forsakers,
        On whom the pale moon gleams:
        Yet we are the movers and shakers
        Of the world for ever, it seems.

        - Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Ode, 1874

        That all seems strangely apropos.

      • by bryan1945 (301828)

        I agree with you on everything except the liver cancer thing. Cancer research is a good thing to fund, and will have a lasting affect for everyone.

      • One thing I'm really surprised is that obscenely rich people,m the ones with billions of dollars do not actively fund space exploration, even the former geeks. I mean helping kids in Africa is most honorable, but didn't these guys have childhood reams, why are they not doing anything now that anything is possible for them? I'm confused.
      • by tomhath (637240)

        Voyager's Grand Tour was a unique opportunity that the US seized while the planets were in the right alignment. Can't happen again for almost 200 years.

        More money is probably being spent on space projects today than ever. But those projects are primarily space applications: GPS, communications, weather, etc. Even though those don't look like pure science, the technology for launching and operating space vehicles moves on.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Quite true. We are existing the Age of Reason into the Age of Dark Ages 2. From the proponents of ignorance (ie. intelligent design) to people's tendency to bashing science as "unscientific" because it does not paint rosy pictures for them (eg. AGW) to simple fear of unknown (eg. nuclear). It has been rather sad last 20 years in terms of people's perception of science.

      On another note, there is another probe racing for Pluto. It will then go on exploring the Kuiper belt.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Horiz [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jo42 (227475)

      I can't imagine that people like these will be willing to commit money, either as tax or investment, in furthering space research, not until they see something that affects them personally and requires return to space.

      Yes. It's far more important to be rich and famous in America. It's far more important to kill brown people in the middle east so that they have oil and gas to driving their fat, lazy, stupid, ignorant asses around in gas guzzling SUVs, Mercedes and BMW douche-mobiles. It's far more important to piss away untold billions of dollars bailing out the greedy fucktards on Wall Street.

      Of course, let's not mention all the scientific advances that these people benefit from that came from the space program. After al

      • by Skylax (1129403)

        But then strictly speaking the money spent on wars is not really wasted. It is used to pay wages, buy weapons, invest in military research. Military personal then put the money back into the economy when spending the money on houses, cars, laptops, smartphones etc. Engineers, mechanics and so on are payed to design and build the weapons who in turn get payed for it.
        Even the fuel wasted by the military is bought from the oil companies who in turn buy new oil drilling platforms which have to be designed and m

    • I can't imagine that people like these will be willing to commit money, either as tax or investment, in furthering space research, not until they see something that affects them personally and requires return to space.

      We should regard such people as you would an ant. They're only concerned with following a pheromone trail, until someone walks by and accidentally destroys their entire Universe with one (highly unlikely) foot-fall.

      Protip: The dinosaurs didn't have a space program. There is a 100% chance that such an event will happen again, it's only a question of when.
      Right now our prime directive should be making at least one other basket to keep a few of our eggs in...
      The media loves fearmongering, I say us scie

  • by Gimbal (2474818) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:59PM (#39682719)

    I respect Mr. Rennie's effort in encouraging further efforts in deep space exploration, but I think his argument may go a little away from principle. The Voyager probes were not designed to be deep space probes. As I recall having learned, the Voyager probes were designed to photograph the planets and record relevant non-visual data, during the recent "grand conjunction" phase in the solar system.

    I'm afraid I must apologize for my evident lack of citations, here. As my own specator knowledge of it holds, and anyone may wish to correct me: It's been a pleasant suprrise that the Voyager probes have continued functioningm, for so many years since after they completed their assigned missions.

    Personally, I think it also may serve in making a constructive comment towards the niceties of reliable manufacturing practice in the construction of space exploration systems. "But maybe that's just me" ;}

  • by gstrickler (920733) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:00AM (#39682727)

    Given the long duration to get a probe to the edge of the solar system, and the rapid advances in instrumentation, I think we should be launching a Voyager type probe every 5-10 years. They needn’t follow a single path, in fact, heading off to different parts of the heliosphere makes more sense.

    Launch windows will of course determine the schedule and affect the trajectory, but I think learning about the heliopause, interstellar environment, and eventually, the Oort Cloud is vital. Given current propulsion technologies, it will take many years to reach those areas. The best way I see to deal with that is “launch early, launch often”.

    And, since each probe will need monitoring for decades, it would make sense to put them into a single, ongoing program, where much of the monitoring and development could be consolidated.

  • It's ok. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:14AM (#39682795)

    We're in good company judging by how busy the galaxy seems to be.
    Yet another minor footnote of a species in the grand scheme of things that did not use their small window between having the technology to try leaving their home planet. And the next global disaster that wipes life off the planet.

    Gamma ray burst, comet, meteor, supervolcano, germ, pole shift, nuclear/chemical/bio war, toxic air/earth/water/food, solar flare, global warming, ecosystem collapse, rogue black hole, particle accelerator mishap, nanotech accident, and many other things we can't even predict.

    We backup our computer data. But not our species.

    Unlikely? Nah. We know at least most of those WILL happen again at some point in the future.
    But it would be hard, and expensive, and take a while to even attempt to create a new human location..
    So lets just not do it. Lets continue keeping all our stuff in one place. Screw space! Planning ahead is for suckers.

    Lets go watch tv. I've got popcorn.

    • Re:It's ok. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by 0111 1110 (518466) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:44AM (#39682929)

      I wouldn't read too much into The Great Silence. It is surprising that there are no bright beacons, unless you consider pulsars to be beacons, but neither the radio silence nor the lack of probes in every star system really prove very much. SETI is a needle in a haystack search. A large number of improbable events would have to occur for us to receive a signal that way. For all we know there could be loud transmissions from Epsilon Indi or Gliese 581, but on a frequency that more or less requires a radio telescope that isn't at the bottom of a vast oxygen-nitrogen ocean. Our atmosphere is virtually opaque to many frequencies and the idea of the 'water hole' meaning anything special to other species is a huge stretch.

    • Re:It's ok. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by blahplusplus (757119) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @01:27AM (#39683097)

      "So lets just not do it. Lets continue keeping all our stuff in one place. Screw space! Planning ahead is for suckers."

      It's more like the fact that the vast majority of the population isn't intelligent enough to want it and most of them are struggling (financially) so exactly why would they want to spend something that smarter future generations could do much quicker and efficiently then old human being v1.0?

      I think people who rail against events in our time forget how inefficient and slow human beings are. IMHO we should focus in making better human beings and/or robots/AI tools that augment human intelligence. Our main problem isn't that we're not curious, it's that we don't have enough intelligent, responsible and secure human beings on planet earth.

    • It's ok, don't despair, God's got your back.
    • All those things are much easier to survive with a "backup" bunker on earth than one anywhere else in the solar system.
  • by a_hanso (1891616) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:25AM (#39682851) Journal

    Say,

    1. Mass produce the science instruments. At least have common designs so that they can be quickly fabricated.

    2. Common OS, instrument bus and communications sub system.

    3. A common power plant and chassis design.

    4. A common Earth orbit departure stage.

    I know that the instrument specs for each mission is unique and the propulsion and communication requirements all depend on the probe's trajectory, but I'm thinking that they can do a lot more prefab-and-assembly than they are doing now.

    • by manoweb (1993306) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @01:04AM (#39683027)
      Very unfortunately, that's impossible. There isn't enough Plutonium left for all those probes, and the politics are not in favour of investing in nuclear power plants that can produce it.
      • by a_hanso (1891616)
        Damn nucleophobes. Can't other isotopes do the job?
        • by tragedy (27079)

          Yes, but plutonium 238 seems to have the best performance profile. First of all, it pretty much just emits alpha radiation that can be stopped with a thin layer of shielding. It also has a decently high power density combined with an 87.7 year half life. For long space missions Americium-241 seems to me to the the next best. It actually has a 432 year half life. It only has about 1/4 the power density of pu-238, so you have to use 4 times the mass of the pu-238 you would otherwise need. It needs a lot more

    • Maybe not quite accurate, but I think NASA tried this approach about 10-15 years ago with their "faster, better, cheaper" approach. Just ended up digging a lot of holes with multimillion dollar equipment.

      • by a_hanso (1891616)
        It's a fundamentally sound idea. Perhaps they executed it all wrong. This type of assembly works for almost every other type of device or vehicle known to man. I can't think of any reasons why it wouldn't fundamentally work for space probes.
  • benefiting the world (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fermion (181285) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:49AM (#39682949) Homepage Journal
    The Voyager program, like most of the US space efforts, is creating data that benefits the world. With Voyager in particular, the world has gotten a great value because we not only got data on the outer planets, but also an extended mission that is going to define boundaries that we are able to define in no other way. It is interesting to note that the Voyager program not only was not funded to map the edges of the solar system, but was not even fully funded for it's original mission, to visit most of the planets.

    In spite of this limited funding, like so many other NASA project, it met and exceeding objectives. As such it is strange that we are complaining that we have no deep space program when we really never had a deep space program. What we have had are basic program that have been extended as able. We have, for the first time, a defined boundary of the solar system. Now that we know, a formal intersteller mission can be planned. But, as mentioned this is world project, so it should be funded by others in addition to the US.

    The problem with the space program is US funding. Increasingly citizens in the US want their entitlements without any strings attached. The progress we have made has been costly, and I thank past generations for shouldering the cost that has made the US a great place to live. It is sad that the current generation is so self absorbed that they cannot think of anything beyond the dollars they have to spend to keep the US great.

    • It is sad that the current generation is so self absorbed that they cannot think of anything beyond the dollars they have to spend to keep the US great.

      Sorry to say, but they ain't got lots of spare dollars anymore. China is the biggest manufacturing country now - maybe they should take a turn.

      There's no real reason NASA has to do all the work for humanity. OK, so the ESA has a few nice contributions, but not in relation to their GDP. And they don't even waste all their money on an absurd military.

      • by BlueStrat (756137)

        It is sad that the current generation is so self absorbed that they cannot think of anything beyond the dollars they have to spend to keep the US great.

        Sorry to say, but they ain't got lots of spare dollars anymore. China is the biggest manufacturing country now - maybe they should take a turn.

        There's no real reason NASA has to do all the work for humanity. OK, so the ESA has a few nice contributions, but not in relation to their GDP. And they don't even waste all their money on an absurd military.

        I wouldn't count on China to share much of any advances they make with their space program with the rest of the world. Anything truly worthwhile that gives China

    • by gstrickler (920733) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:29AM (#39683337)

      The problem with the space program is US funding. Increasingly citizens in the US want their entitlements without any strings attached.

      Despite all the debates and rhetoric about it, entitlements aren't the problem. Social Security and Medicare the two big entitlements are in fact paid for from separate taxes that exceed the amount spent on those programs. Look at the federal budget. Military spending, is the biggest portion, bigger than all entitlements combined. NASA's budget is less than 1% of the federal budget. What's killing us are all the "wars", the overseas wars, the "war on drugs", the "war on terror", etc.

      Don't misunderstand me, we need a military, we need defense. But the "war on drugs" is a complete waste, the "war or terror" is out of control, and the other wars are just a way for people supplying the military to get rich while bankrupting the country.

      • by Z8 (1602647)

        Look at the federal budget. Military spending, is the biggest portion, bigger than all entitlements combined.

        Social security and medicare/medicade are both individually more expensive than defense.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_budget [wikipedia.org]

      • by tomhath (637240)

        Social Security and Medicare the two big entitlements are in fact paid for from separate taxes that exceed the amount spent on those programs.

        It sounds like you're suggesting a balanced budget amendment. Social Security taxes exceeding expenditures is only true if you look at the current year, long term it's accumulating obligations at a faster rate than is being funded.

    • I thank past generations for shouldering the cost that has made the US a great place to live. It is sad that the current generation is so self absorbed that they cannot think of anything beyond the dollars they have to spend to keep the US great.

      You're either blind or just ignorant. We pay our dues, we give the government VAST amounts of money, with which they squander on needless wars to keep the arms and military-industrial business going.
      NASA's funding is a drop in the bucket comparatively, I can see NO REASON AT ALL not to 100% fund EVERY program that comes out of NASA, considering we spend more than their whole budget just to air-condition the troops. [gizmodo.com]

      Don't get me wrong, I support the troops and all that bullshit, but I'm not behind the r

  • by tmosley (996283) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @01:04AM (#39683023)
    The government needs that money to kill a few more brown people and to create more enemies to keep us distracted so our leaders stay in power.
  • by manoweb (1993306) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @01:10AM (#39683053)
    Keep in mind that New Horizons will arrive close to Pluto in 2015 and it's he fastest probe ever, it will likely reach much further distances than Voyager while still operative, so I am optimistic after all.
    • Re:New Horizons (Score:5, Informative)

      by DirePickle (796986) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @01:28AM (#39683103)
      Unfortunately, while New Horizons left at the fastest speed ever, it's currently moving at 15km/s (and slowing) and Voyager 1 is cruising at a bit over 17km/s. Per Wikipedia, when NH is at the distance that V1 is now, it'll only be moving at 13km/s.
      • by manoweb (1993306)
        Always the pessimistic side!!! ;)
        • Re:New Horizons (Score:4, Informative)

          by Solandri (704621) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:12PM (#39685635)
          It's not pessimistic. You actually don't want it going quite so fast. Voyager 2's trajectory and velocity were set - it had to be moving at a certain speed in order to meet up with Uranus and Neptune. Consequently, the gravity assists had sped up Voyager 2 so much that by the time it reached Neptune, the entire close encounter was pretty much over in a day. They had to pre-program it to take pictures and measurements and store it on tape, hope that everything worked, and wait for the data to be sent back to Earth. By the time we got it, Voyager 2 was already leaving Neptune. There were no second chances, and we were fortunate that some of the pan-slew timed exposure tricks worked perfectly.

          The New Horizons flyby of Pluto is pretty much going to be the same thing. All the close-up observations of Pluto and its moons are going to happen on 14 July, 2015. One day. No second chances if it turns out someone forgot to send the command to remove the lens cap. If it had been moving at 17 km/s instead of 13 km/s, we'd have about 25% less observation time. Better to wait a few years longer for the spacecraft to get there, in order to get a few more hours and days observation time.

          In the future, with an ion engine, maybe we'll be able to send probes which speed up the first half of the trip, and slow down the second half. That would allow us to extend the encounter times, or even enter into orbit around the outer planet(oid), without extending the travel time to decades.
  • Whatcha gonna do? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by macraig (621737) <mark...a...craig@@@gmail...com> on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:08AM (#39683277)

    Seriously, what are you gonna do to persuade the average human of the critical importance of space exploration and colonization? They can neither see nor reason past the ends of their noses. They would rather argue about abortion and gay rights and whether so-and-so 'had work done' and what sort of debauchery they have planned for Friday night. That's on the 99-percent end of the scale; on the other end you have people who can't see nor reason past their own bloated bank accounts and genitalia.

  • New Horizins [wikipedia.org] is on it's way there now. The article seems to contradict the summary and the headline.

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:13AM (#39683613)

    The US and Russia have funded almost every foray past Low Earth Orbit. Russia might keep going in a very small way, but the US is far too dominated by bean counters and corporate whores.

    In 10 or 15 years, the "language of space" will probably be Chinese.

  • by kevingolding2001 (590321) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:46AM (#39683845)
    I'm surprised nobody else has posted this yet.
    65 years [xkcd.com]
  • "Voyager and the Coming Great Hiatus In Deep Space"

    Coming? The Great Hiatus has been upon us since May 23rd, 2001 [wikipedia.org].

  • Space is empty (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @06:05AM (#39683887)

    The reason for not building interstellar probes is that there is nothing interesting between stars. A good telescope can tell us much more than a deep space probe.

  • What we need is another good scare. The Chinese are well on the way to their own orbital research station (entirely built by them...no comment on where the tech may have come from) and a follow-on exploration of the moon, the Indians are getting their space program going and will probably partner with China in the near-to-mid term, and the ESA and Russia are continuing with the Mars mission planning without us (thanks, Congress!).

    Once we start getting left behind...again...it will freak the right people out

  • Just get some probes on Europa [wikipedia.org] already! If you want to find extraterrestrial life, that is your best hope, probably by a wide margin. Unlike Mars, where we'd be lucky to find single-celled organisms, Europa seems to harbor the possibility of multicelluar life, in my non-expert opinion (although the Wikipedia article pooh-poohs this). I think the discovery of life on Europa would rekindle interest in human space exploration since some biologists is going to want to go there in person with a specimen jar.
  • More like as far as we are able to afford to go.

  • So yes, we have gone more or less as far as we are going to go. It will likely be up to the Chinese, Japanese or Indians to carry on IMHO. Any politician who supports something perceived as expensive, like space exploration won't get elected. Keep in mind most people think money spent on space is somehow being thrown away into space itself and thus lost.
    Corporations are not going to go there until they can turn a profit doing so, and I doubt we have the tech to make it profitable yet, so without government

  • On July 20, 1969, man took his first footsteps on the moon. They were carried there aboard the Saturn V, the most powerful rocket ever built, a record which stands to this day. It was the culmination of a challenge set forth by John F. Kennedy in his landmark speech on September 12, 1962: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our e

  • by cowboy76Spain (815442) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @04:44PM (#39688069)

    I mean, why is everybody so obsessed with the role of Voyager in deep space exploration? Voyager has not given information about any extrasolar system, and when (and if) he arrives at one someday, it will be dead long before.

    Instead, space based telescopes are investigating other solar systems and discovering planets each week, right now.

    Given that:

    *) We do not have a technology that would endure the years of travel, let alone send back information.

    *) Probably anything in the near-medium future able to do it will be way greater/heavier than Voyager.

    *) We really do not know where to point those probes.

    I am not terribly worried about not sending more probes so they just become garbage in the interestellar void. At a later stage, it might make sense, but not right now.

At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens that person is carrying.

Working...