The Telegraph reports today on a scientific and technological milestone about to be passed by the human race – Voyager 1, the NASA space probe launched in 1977, is due to become the first man-made object to leave our solar system, the Milky Way:
Scientists launched Voyager 1 in 1977 on what was meant to be a five-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn, however 30 years later the vessel has continued towards the boundary of our solar system 11 billion miles from Earth.
Once the spaceship crosses this border it will enter interstellar space – the void between our solar system and the rest of the universe – becoming the first man-made object to venture beyond our solar “bubble”.
In the newspaper’s own comments section, many readers have been responding with the sentiments either of nostalgia (look what we could do as a species when we put our mind to it in that era) or with happiness (how nice to see a positive story in these difficult times, etc.). One reader, identified only as Hardeep_Singh, summed it up best for me:
“Extraordinary a glimpse of when anything was possible compare that to today’s mindset, ‘fairness’, protest, ‘lessons must be learnt’, etc.”
I know that I am in a small and diminishing minority of those who believe that even in these recession-hit, austere times, we should continue to dream grand dreams, and implement the ambitious programmes to make them possible. But it is my view that our societies cannot be built of just hospitals and schools and roads and bridges and the utilitarian things that bind us to the present; there must be room also for the arts, for medical research, scientific exploits and human-inspired voyages that perhaps don’t have a pre-determined goal in sight (Voyager 1’s mission after Titan was made up on the fly, the craft was not expected to remain functional for so long) but which generate new knowledge and bring back riches for us all nonetheless. I hope that our leaders will remember this, and that it will not fall exclusively to China and the developing world to explore these new frontiers and pass these milestones.
On a much more lowly, terrestrial scale, this article also happens to represent a small milestone in itself – the 100th piece that I have uploaded to this blog. Many thanks to you all, frequent and occasional readers alike, for your time, your comments and your support.
And God speed Voyager 1 on its journey.