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I was too young to remember the moon missions. By the mid-1970s, the country had largely overcome its zeal (and budget) for space exploration, leaving grainy tape of Apollo-Soyuz and Evel Knievel rocket bikes as sorry substitutes for a generation of Star Trek-addled brains yearning to go where no one had gone before. So when the unassuming Voyager probes were launched in August and September of 1977--just a few months after Star Wars premiered--our imaginations welled with images of alien worlds and the promise of a new age of space travel.
We needed patience, though. Though the probes began their journeys moving at a velocity of 11 miles per second, space is big. But by the time the first images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot were beamed back to Earthlings in 1980 (via the trustworthy anchors of the nightly network news), brains like mine lit up like a gamma ray burst with the possibilities of deep-space exploration.
Almost 40 years later, the Voyager probes are still traveling, and incredibly, still broadcasting to Earth across the vast reaches of space. Jim Bell, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, has written the definitive account of the Voyager program. Beginning at the mission's inception as an opportunity to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment, The Interstellar Age tells the story of the people who made a remarkable vision real and an odyssey surpassing all expectations--and the boundaries of the Solar System itself.
Enjoy these images from the Voyager missions hand-selected by Bell. The Interstellar Age is a selection for Amazon.com's Best Books of the Month in Nonfiction for February 2015.
Highlights from a Grand, Grand Tour
By Jim Bell, author of The Interstellar Age
Two robots, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were launched from Earth in 1977 and sent on the grandest, farthest-flung adventure ever. Through their eyes, through their sensors, via their faint voices from billions of miles away, we have been vicarious fellow travelers on their Grand Tour of the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and their moons. Now, they are crossing into the threshold of interstellar space, beyond the influence of the Sun, in the realm between the stars"¦ And still we are with them: wandering, wondering, seeking answers to humanity's oldest questions. Where did we come from? Where are we going? Are we alone?
Here are seven examples of some of my favorite Voyager-related photos and graphics from The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission.
Voyager 1 and 2 Trajectories
Schematic diagram of the trajectories that enabled NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft to tour the four gas giant planets and achieve the velocity to escape our solar system. (Photo credit: NASA/ JPL)
Voyager and the Golden Record
Top: Spacecraft and systems/instruments. Lower left: Closeup of the Golden Record case mounted on the side of the spacecraft bus. Lower right: Close-up of the first side of the actual record. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL)
Clouds and the Great Red Spot. A spectacular example of a modern reprocessed Voyager image of Jupiter's Great Red Spot shows the regional appearance of this three-Earth-sized storm system. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL/BjÃ¶rn JÃ³nsson)
One of the highest-resolution views of Europa obtained during the Voyager flybys, this reprocessed version of Voyager 2's closest-approach mosaic shows spectacular examples of the cracks, grooves, and low ridges that imply the existence of a large subsurface ocean underneath this moon's relatively flat, icy crust. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)
Voyager 2's Departure from Saturn
About three days after the closest approach behind Saturn and the major scare from the scan platform anomaly, control was regained of Voyager 2's cameras, resulting in breathtaking, impossible-from-Earth photos like this from beneath the plane of the rings. Modern digital reprocessing of the data helps to bring out additional subtle details in color and structure. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Gordon Ugarkovic)
A Pale Blue Dot
Voyager 1 took this solar system family portrait (top frame) on Valentine's Day, 1990. This was Voyager 1's final image mosaic, a view of the planets in our Solar System as taken from a vantage point beyond the orbit of Neptune. Voyager started photographing the planets at Neptune (N), moving in to Uranus (U), Saturn (S), then Jupiter (J), Earth (E), and Venus (V). Mercury and Mars were lost in the Sun's glare. The inset view of Earth is the "Pale Blue Dot"¦a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam," made famous by astronomer Carl Sagan, reflecting on the significance of one of Voyager's most famous photos. Below the mosaic is a computer simulation of the positions of the Sun and planets during the time the images were taken. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL)
Eternally orbiting the Milky Way
While the Voyagers have escaped the Sun's gravitational pull, they (like the Sun) will forever orbit the center of the Milky Way, making long, 250-million-year loops around the galaxy for billions of years or more. As extrasolar explorers, they have ushered us all into the Interstellar Age"¦ (Photo credit: Jon Lomberg)