"I know many of us have been very hard on NASA in the past. I know I have. But they have done some wonderful things. Amazing things. The Voyager Program is only one of them."
Who would have thunk it? I mean, these two mechanical explorers we launched from Earth in 1977. That was a long, long time ago. I had barely graduated from college, and was working at my first company. My wife and I just celebrated our third anniversary by buying a "starter home" in Coon Rapids. The Vikings played in their last Super Bowl that year. The state of our technology was like cave man era, compared to what it is today. And yet - not only did we land on the Moon in 1969, we also launched the two Voyagers in 1977 which - are still operating today.
Talk about exceeding expectations! Not only have they zipped by many planets and their moons, not only have they collected a boat load of data, they have been able to "phone home" all that data to NASA. And now, as they would say on Star Trek, they have entered a place where no man, no Earth launched machine,has ever ventured - Interstellar Space.
And then what? Well, there is a whole bunch of the Milky Way to travel through. As even though they are screaming away from Earth at a speed of almost 40,000 mph, they will only be halfway to our closest star in a mere 40,000 years. In other words, the days of learning new stuff using the Voyagers might be about over. Or is it?
One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our solar system "neighborhood" Is the Oort Cloud. This massive sphere of space debris starts at the edge of our solar system and stretches out into interstellar space. Many astronomers believe the bulk of the comets which take a trip by the sun, might start their trip in the Oort Cloud. And some scientists think this cloud might contain a whole lot of space debris like comets and asteroids and mini planets. How much debris? Some think the cloud might contain a couple of trillion pieces of space junk or debris.
Since NASA is hopeful now these Voyagers could still phone home until 2025 or so, maybe they could learn one more secret to share with us. Up to now, all the knowledge we have on the Oort Cloud is theory. Maybe the Voyagers can give us something more than just theory. Time will tell.
The new mechanical explorers which NASA has on the drawing boards will be quite a bit different than the Voyagers. Their max speeds will a lot faster than 40,000 mph. Some feel that using a solar sail, powered by laser bursts, these new explorers could travel four times as fast as the Voyager. Other scientists are looking for the "golden fleece" of space travel. A propulsion system which will allow our mechanical explorers to travel up to half the speed of light. Even with that speed, it would take 8 years to reach our closest star.
I know many of us have been very hard on NASA in the past. I know I have. But they have done some wonderful things. Amazing things. The Voyager Program is only one of them. Keep it up NASA. Many of us down here on Terra firma like the "wow factor". We are ready to be wowed once again.