Voyager: the Greatest Journey of Discovery

  • Twin missions visited the outer planets
  • Discovered new moons and planetary rings
  • Voyager 1 is now the farthest manmade object

A “meditation on the nature and meaning of exploration itself, disguised as a chronicle of the life and times of a space mission,” is what the New York Times says of Arizona State University Professor Stephen Pyne’s new book, Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery.

It adds that Pyne’s book takes readers on the roller-coaster ride through time and space, offering “a rich mix of history, science and fine writing. Sometimes it seems as if Captain Cook and Prince Henry the Navigator themselves are aboard the busy spacecraft.”

Cover of Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery

Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery, traces the history and impact of the twin Voyager spacecraft.

The expeditions of the twin Voyager spacecraft, rank among the most amazing achievements of the space age…indeed, among any age. Launched in August and September 1977 respectively, Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 journeyed to the outer reaches of the Solar System. Voyager 1 flew past Jupiter and Saturn; Voyager 2 encountered Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Along the way they discovered numerous new moons, rings around Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io, lightning in Saturn’s atmosphere, as well as many more accomplishments.

Both spacecraft are now way out beyond the edge of the Solar System, slowly drifting through the region where the Sun’s influence ends and true interstellar space begins. In 1998, Voyager 1 overtook Pioneer 10 as the most distant manmade object from Earth—almost 70 times further from the Sun than Earth is.

Today, Voyager 1 is almost 114 times further than the Earth. Voyager 2, travelling in a different direction, is 93 times the Earth-Sun distance.

Voyager: a modern-day Magellan

Why Pyne’s focus on the Voyager mission? While discovery is a uniquely human activity, the Voyager missions stand as iconic testaments, “grand gestures.” Moments of exploring, Pyne says, “that more than any other capture the general imagination, that fuse place, time, discovery and yearning in ways that seem to speak to an era’s sense of itself.”

Artist's impression of Voyager 2 flying past Jupiter

Artist's impression of Voyager 2 flying past Jupiter.

Voyager, he argues, was of the same ilk as Magellan’s journey in the First Age of Discovery and Alexander von Humboldt’s cross-continental trek across South America in the Second Age of Discovery.

Voyager was a defining symbol of the Third Age of Discovery, the exploratory tale of which transcends time and weaves the thread of all human endeavour into the distant future.

Pyne’s work raises “fascinating questions about the human impulses embedded in the space program and about how Voyager’s journey may change our sense of who we are.”

Time Magazine says of Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery, “For space geeks, a sweet read; for everyone else, an eye-opener.”

Pyne is an award-winning environmental historian, and the author of three previous books: “Year of the Fires,” “The Ice,” and “How the Canyon Became Grand.”

You can get more details of Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery at the SpaceInfo shop.

Adapted from information issued by ASU / NASA / Wikipedia.

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