40 year voyage

40 Year Voyage – Voyager 1


Voyager 1, what an amazing piece of machinery! The satellite left Earth in September 1977.  I remember being amazed that it was going to travel to Jupiter.  I became more amazed when it also visited Saturn.  A few years ago, it became the first man-made object to venture into interstellar space.  Voyager 1 is now about 13 billion miles from Earth, still functioning.

We still communicate with the craft, sending a signal to Voyager takes almost 20 hours.  If Voyager receives the instructions, it responds with a radio transmission reply, taking another 20 hours to travel back to Earth.  NASA recently sent a message requesting the onboard systems switch to a different set to thrusters, the backup thrusters.  Apparently, the primary thrusters have not been working as efficiently.  The thrusters will give the craft a small nudge so it continues to point toward Earth in a way that it can continue to receive and send radio transmissions.  The process was a success.

Voyager spacecraft – Courtesy of NASA-JPL

The Voyager team at NASA had to review some computer code which was written in Assembler language.  A very low-level language that is still in use in some businesses in the U.S.  In my experience, I recall see several Assembler subroutines referred to within Cobol programs.  Many of these subroutines were built to handle a single task such as manipulating or calculating differences in dates.  Something Assembler was very efficient at performing.  I recall coding some Assembler routines in training classes, with terminology such as Base Registers or locating instructions in computer dumps with the Base and displacement.  In the business world, our rule of thumb was to leave the routines alone, the IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT line of thinking.  It served us well.

Hopefully, we’ll get a few more years of travel out of Voyager 1.  Eventually, the craft will venture too far from the sun, it will lack electrical power to continue communicating and orienting itself toward Earth.