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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?"
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Voyager and the Coming Great Hiatus In Deep Space

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  • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2012 @10:59PM (#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.

  • by gstrickler (920733) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:00PM (#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.

  • Re:Indeed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sprior (249994) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:13PM (#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...

  • by a_hanso (1891616) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:25PM (#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.

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

    by 0111 1110 (518466) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:44PM (#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.

  • benefiting the world (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fermion (181285) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:49PM (#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.

  • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by qu33ksilver (2567983) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:52AM (#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:5, Interesting)

    by afgam28 (48611) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:57AM (#39683235)

    I think wealthy people still do think in terms of dynasties and legacy. You've got people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet doing a lot of work to leave their legacy on the world. And people like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson have set up companies with ambitious plans to get into space.

    I hope that what we're seeing is just a low point in history, where we're making the transition from government-funded space exploration to private funding.

    This may be a good thing. While I think it's great that China is investing in space, we've seen with the United States that governments can quickly lose interest in space and stop funding exploration. Having private companies might be the only sustainable way to fund space exploration.

  • by gstrickler (920733) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @01:29AM (#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 AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:38AM (#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 @03:06AM (#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.
  • 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.

  • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:09AM (#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 amiga3D (567632) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:53AM (#39684013)

    Here we go again. I remember how eagerly my church watched and prayed for the moon astronauts when they launched on their missions. Many of those astronauts were in fact Christians. This same lie appears on every single post here about any scientific topic. I for one eagerly support all exploration of the wonders that the Lord has created. The reason for the dirge of deep space exploration is simple to see and as usual it's all about the God of most people, the dollar. No one has figured a way to make money there in the short term so therefore the interest has to be carried entirely on the Governments dime. With budgets being trimmed and wars to fight that is one small dime nowadays. Personally I think it's foolish not to explore but I don't get to decide.

  • Re:Indeed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Solandri (704621) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @10:35AM (#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.

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