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Voyager 1 and 2

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Posted over 1 year ago


1977 was the kind of year that only comes around once every 176 years. That's how often the outer planets of our solar system (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune line up just right in their orbits around the sun to allow for a spacecraft to slingshot past all four of them. Rather than wait until 2153, NASA decided to take advantage of the opportunity of '77. The space agency launched the twin 1-ton space probe emissaries, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, from Florida's Cape Canaveral in September and August of that year. They were supposed to last for four years, and technically, both spacecraft were only heading to Jupiter and Saturn. Mission designers had planned Voyager 2's trajectory so it could continue on toward Uranus and Neptune if Voyager 1 (which launched second but took a faster route) succeeded at Jupiter and Saturn. Fifty-two worlds and 12 years later, the Volkswagen Beetle-size probes brought new meaning to success in planetary science. Their journeys to the outer planets gave humanity a front-row seat to see half the solar system up close in great detail for the first time (NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft had zipped past Jupiter in 1973 and 1974, but they were far less capable and yielded significantly less data). The Voyager probes sent back stunning images of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter that revealed it to be a raging storm the size of two Earths and Saturn's rings-thought to be smooth and ordered - were revealed to be oddly intertwining and kinked. The mission further discovered that Uranus orbits on its side and Neptune sports the fastest winds in the solar system. And that was just the Planet's.