What is Voyager 1 and Why are scientists worried about Voyager 1?
Scientists are worried about Voyager 1 because it is travelling so far away from Earth and many of its instruments are broken. Atomic clocks on Voyager 1 and 2 are not just pieces of outmoded technology. These devices are vital for scientists now, more than 30 years after their launch.
There may be nothing special about Voyager 1. This spacecraft is only the first in a series of missions to explore the outer solar system. Future spacecraft could pick up communications more easily at farther distances from the Sun, which would make it possible for NASA scientists to use them as relays in space.
Right now Voyager One’s antenna is still pointing at Earth. We know this because we can send signals to it, and it can send signals back to Earth.
However, the data readouts indicate the dish isn’t pointing at Earth, even though we know it is. NASA scientists are looking into it, but for now Voyager I is still doing fine 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth. It takes light and radio signals 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel one way, so to communicate an instruction and get a response takes 2 days. Voyager II is 17 hours 58 minutes and 55 seconds of light-travel time from Earth. The two spacecraft are on different trajectories from each other.
Both Voyager I and Voyager II are 45 years old, way past their predicted operational expectation, and being bombarded by intense cosmic radiation and micro space particles. Space is a harsh environment. It’s surprising the things lasted as long as they have.
The Voyager I extended mission is expected to continue until 2025, when the radioisotope thermometric generators can no longer supply enough electric power to operate the onboard scientific instruments. It long ago went too far from the Sun to get solar powered energy had it been equipped with solar panels, which it was not. It’s power was the radioisotope generators.
Once power is lost, humans will lose all contact with Voyager I for the rest of humanity, although the positions and distance from Earth will be known by astronomers. No one will chase after them, since the unlikelihood that the golden records be actually found by someone. In that sense, the Voyagers’ missions will continue long after communication is lost, as they carry a message for any intelligent beings who might care to investigate.