A measure beyond months


Voyager’s 40th anniversary

Don’t call it the Grand Tour.  The Grand Tour, four spacecraft richly equipped, costing nearly a billion bucks back when a billion counted big, was dead as the 1970s began, killed by Congress, not to be mentioned.  The two Voyagers were billed as Jupiter/Saturn probes, built with as much off-the-shelf-technology as possible, even if NASA juked up the systems in hopes of a longer voyage.  Shush– don’t mention that.  The press, describing them at launch, stuck to the Jupiter/Saturn line, with Voyager 2 “maybe” going on to Uranus in 1986.  No mention of Neptune three years beyond, a voyage of twelve years.  Twelve years?  Born in the 1970s, the Voyagers were a product of a time when missions were measured in months, not years.

To these 1970s creatures, human and mechanical, the possibilities of continuing the journey beyond 1989 made for the stuff of an improbable dream.  For us, no thoughts that the 1970s could run beyond the limits of the century.  No thoughts that the 1970s could extend beyond the limits of the solar system.

So dismiss us aging relics; we, with our quaint technology.  We, the ones who broke free of the solar system, accomplished with the technology of the phonograph age.  And we continue.  Next stop, the Constellation Camelopardalis in another 40,000 years.  Call it the grandest tour the human race may make.

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