NASA is starting to shut down the Voyager probes, which launched in 1977 and have made them deeper into space than anything since.

NASA is starting to shut down the Voyager probes, which launched in 1977 and have made them deeper into space than anything since.

Artist rendering of NASA Voyager spacecraft in outer space

Artist rendering of NASA Voyager spacecraft in outer space

Artist’s impression (circa 1977) of the trajectory being taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.Space Borders/Photo Archive/Getty Images

  • NASA is shutting down the Voyager spacecraft systems this year, Scientific American reports.

  • Investigations are waning after 45 years – the move is one way to keep them high until 2030.

  • Voyager 1 and 2 launched in 1977 went further than any other human-made object.

The epic interstellar journeys of NASA’s acclaimed Voyager spacecraft are set to come to an end as the agency begins shutting down its systems, Scientific American reports.

The probes were launched 45 years ago, in 1977, and have pushed the boundaries of space exploration ever since. They are further from Earth than any other man-made object, a record that will likely remain intact for decades.

The decision to reduce the power of the probes is intended to extend their lifespan by a few more years, bringing them to around 2030, according to Scientific American.

“We made 10 times the guarantee on the damn things,” said Ralph McNutt, a physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, referring to initial projections that his mission would take four years.

The probes are powered by radioactive plutonium, which keeps tiny on-board computers running for decades on end.

Power in the system is decreasing by about 4 watts a year, according to Scientific American, requiring power usage to be reduced.

“If all goes very well, maybe we can extend the missions into the 2030s. It just depends on the power. That’s the limit point,” Spilker said.

Saturn's rings are shown in false colors in a photo taken by a Voyager spacecraft in 1981.

Saturn’s rings are shown in false colors in a photo taken by a Voyager spacecraft on August 23, 1981.NASA

The probes’ main purpose was to fly by Jupiter and Saturn, a mission they soon accomplished. So they went on, sending back images of our solar system and transmitting readings home from deep space.

In 1990, Voyager 1 took the iconic composite photo of the “pale blue dot”, a view of Earth taken 3.7 billion miles away from our sun.

Pale Blue Dot_update

The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of Earth taken on February 14, 1990 by NASA’s Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles. This is a 2020 relaunch.NASA/JPL-Caltech

More impressive photos taken by the probes are seen in the video below.

In 1998, Voyager 1 became the most distant man-made object in space – 6.5 billion miles from Earth.

The probes are now 12 and 14.5 billion miles away from Earth and increasing, according to a NASA live tracker.

This is beyond what is generally considered the boundaries of our solar system. Voyager 1 reached “interstellar space” in 2012, Voyager 2 in 2018, the first human objects to do so in history.

The instrument’s electronics have stood the test of time remarkably well, despite its age.

The primitive computers on board the probes do not require much power. All data collected by Voyager’s instruments is stored on an eight-track tape recorded and sent back to Earth using a machine that consumes as much energy as a refrigerator light bulb, according to Scientific American.

They have “less memory than the key fob that opens the car door,” Linda Spilker, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Scientific American.

an image shows the eight-track machine on which data is stored on Voyager.

Mission data is stored on this eight-track machine, which will be state-of-the-art by the time it launches.NASA/JPL

As the power on board is waning, NASA will have to decide which instruments will receive the power.

After 2030, Voyager will likely lose its ability to communicate with Earth. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your mission will end.

Both carry a “golden disk”, a 12-inch gold-plated disk that carries information about the Earth.

This includes 115 images, greetings in 55 different languages, sounds like wind, rain and human heartbeats, and 90 minutes of music.

Both sides of NASA's gold record aboard the Voyager spacecraft are shown here.

NASA’s gold record aboard the Voyager spacecraft.NASA/Insider

It will be another 20,000 years before the probes pass the nearest star, Proxima centauri, with this time capsule of human life by Scientific American.

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