Jonathan Margolis, for The Guardian:
Space exploration tends to be more inward looking today than in the so-called Space Age. The famous Curiosity rover is of course still working wonders on Mars, but almost all the US’s coming spacecraft will be restricted to studying our own planet, with special attention to environmental issues. The Voyagers and the people like Howard who still work on them full-time – having, in many cases, done so their entire adult life – are from a different era, when budgets were unrestrained, audaciousness (and showing off to the Soviets) was in vogue and the environment was a concern only for hippies.
Voyager’s spindly limbed, Transit-van-sized machines have been travelling at around 37,000mph for almost 38 years. When they were launched, wooden-framed Morris 1000 Traveller cars had only recently stopped being produced by British Leyland in Oxford. The Voyagers’ on-board computers are early 1970s models that were advanced then but are puny now – an iPhone’s computer is some 200,000 times faster and has about 250,000 times more memory than Voyager’s hardware.
It’s difficult to fathom how there can be regular communication — a 17 hour trip at the speed of light — with devices so far away. It’s estimated that the nuclear batteries aboard Voyager I will last until around 2025.