After almost 40 years of inactivity, NASA engineers have managed to fire up the backup thrusters of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, the only human-made object in interstellar space.
Voyager 1 was sent into space on September 5, 1977 to study the outer reaches of the Solar System as part of the Voyager program, and the sturdy craft still communicates with NASA to receive routine commands and return data.
In fact, anyone can check out the most basic data it transmits in real time on the official Voyager website.
Moving at more than 56,000 kilometres per hour, the craft traverses some 1,400,000 kilometres through space each day. Right now, it’s more than 21 billion kilometres away from Earth.
“With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years without use, we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Chris Jones, Robert Shotwell, Carl Guernsey and Todd Barber made up the team of experts that managed this incredible feat.
— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) September 29, 2017
They dug up decades of old data and reworked the software of the craft, originally coded in Assembler, one of the most primitive developing languages out there.
Looking for some hot stuff? I fired backup thrusters for the first time in 37 years, and they worked like a champ. This could extend my life 2-3 years. https://t.co/N0pF3nvOkO pic.twitter.com/V35vMbrHCr
— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) December 2, 2017
The ultimate test was performed this past November NASA’s engineers fired up the four thrusters and patiently waited 19 hours for the results to be transmitted back to Earth.
Amazingly, the test was successful, and the four backup thrusters that were dormant since the 1980s are now alive and kicking.