Book 55 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from June 19 - July 4
The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission by Jim Bell
Summary (via Goodreads)
The Voyager spacecraft are our farthest-flung emissaries—11.3 billion miles away from the crew who built and still operate them, decades since their launch.
Voyager 1 left the solar system in 2012; its sister craft, Voyager 2, will do so in 2015. The fantastic journey began in 1977, before the first episode of Cosmos aired. The mission was planned as a grand tour beyond the moon; beyond Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; and maybe even into interstellar space. The fact that it actually happened makes this humanity’s greatest space mission.
In The Interstellar Age, award-winning planetary scientist Jim Bell reveals what drove and continues to drive the members of this extraordinary team, including Ed Stone, Voyager’s chief scientist and the one-time head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab; Charley Kohlhase, an orbital dynamics engineer who helped to design many of the critical slingshot maneuvers around planets that enabled the Voyagers to travel so far; and the geologist whose Earth-bound experience would prove of little help in interpreting the strange new landscapes revealed in the Voyagers’ astoundingly clear images of moons and planets.
Speeding through space at a mind-bending eleven miles a second, Voyager 1 is now beyond our solar system's planets. It carries with it artifacts of human civilization. By the time Voyager passes its first star in about 40,000 years, the gold record on the spacecraft, containing various music and images including Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” will still be playable.
Am I mature enough for the phrases like "Uranus itself was fairly bland" or "wondering if they would witness similarly spectacular auroral displays at Uranus"? Nope. I giggled every time, even though the author pointed out professionals pronounce it YUR-uh-nus, not your-ANUS like I do.
The author does a good job of explaining things in a basic way but also including very scientific things so this book would be understandable for someone that doesn't have a lot of background info but also not boring for someone that does. That's not an easy thing to do. He writes in a very accessible way and uses good analogies to demonstrate his points.
I love the perspective of this quote: ""In everyone's pocket right now is a computer far more powerful than the one we flew on Voyager," notes imaging team member and JPL scientist Rich Terrile, "and I don't mean your cell phone - I mean the key fob that unlocks your car."" I also love this phrase by Karl Waldheim, then secretary-general of the UN: "We step our of our Solar System into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate."
He mentions a website, planetary.org, that I definitely want to explore further.
A Few Quotes from the Book
"Voyager's saga is one of discovery and adventure but also of risk and frustration, successes as well as sacrifices, consensus and conflict, the historic mingling with the mundane...When historians five hundred years from now look back, the accomplishments of this particular group will be among the most important remembrances of our time."
"The Voyagers would be emissaries - human artifacts, time capsules of a sort, technological snapshots of what our species and our civilization was capable of doing during the time when the spacecraft was built and launched."
"Perhaps the simplest, most direct summary of Voyager's influence on the many people touched by the adventure came from Rich Terrile: "Voyager was the most amazing experience of my life.""
"For as long as we've been looking upward and outward, we've also been looking inward, seeking clues that might help illuminate our place in the universe."