Someday soon, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft will reach a milestone. Somewhere out beyond the orbits of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, 11 billion miles from the Sun, Voyager 1 is getting ready to pass the outer boundaries of our solar system and enter into a region of interstellar space that scientists have dubbed “cosmic purgatory.”
Consider this: Voyager 1 was launched in 1977. When its mission began, Jimmy Carter was President, disco was king, the Vietnam War was fresh in everyone’s memory, and I hadn’t even celebrated my 21st birthday. A lot has happened in the intervening years, but all the while Voyager 1 has steadily journeyed through the solar system, exploring Jupiter and Saturn and otherwise performing its mission. It’s still doing so, nearly 35 years later, moving at 11 miles per second and continuing to transmit data about the the solar wind and other conditions in the outer reaches of the solar system.
Voyager 1 will now venture out into unknown regions of the Milky Way, broadcasting its signal and becoming the first man-made object to leave the reaches of our solar system. It will continue to broadcast until its power and fuel run out — which is not expected to happen until at least 2020. Maybe disco will be back in vogue by then.