Techy Action at a Distance | God's World News

Techy Action at a Distance

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    A NASA illustration depicts Voyager 1 traveling through space. (NASA via AP)
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    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory operates spacecraft such as Voyager 1 and Juno. (Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via AP)
  • 3 Voyager
    This diagram shows the complex parts that make up Voyager 1. (Public Domain)
  • 4 Voyager
    Voyager 1 took close-up images of Jupiter. (Public Domain)
  • 5 Voyager
    Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 carry records with images and sounds from Earth. (Public Domain)
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How do you repair a computer 15 billion miles away?

In November 2023, Voyager 1 stopped making sense. For years, the space probe sent important data back to NASA. But suddenly, it sent only nonsensical repeating numbers. Scientists had to find a fix at a distance.

NASA launched the unmanned Voyager 1 probe in 1977. That makes it as old as Star Wars—but it’s not science fiction. Voyager 1 spent years studying Jupiter and Saturn, discovering 23 previously unknown natural satellites (or moons). In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to leave the Solar System. It went interstellar—exploring the space between star systems. Right now, it’s a bit over 15 billion miles from Earth.

Even after 47 years of travel, that’s an enormous distance. To go so far so fast, Voyager 1 travels at 38,210 miles per hour. At that speed, it could cross the entire continental United States in just over 4 minutes.

So how does Voyager 1 send information back to Earth? Slowly—slowly. It takes 22.5 hours for messages to reach Voyager 1. The probe responds in binary—strings of ones and zeros that translate into words or numbers.

But last fall, those ones and zeros stopped translating into anything. Something had gone wrong.

Experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California traced the problem to a bad computer chip—but not a bad chip in their computers on Earth. If only it were that easy! The corrupted part was on Voyager 1, billions of miles away.

The JPL scientists had to reprogram the distant spacecraft. They sent commands to Voyager 1, trying to make its systems bypass the malfunctioning chip. Trial and error dragged out for months. For every command, it took nearly two days to receive a response. They had to navigate Voyager’s aging tech. (In computer years, 1977 is ancient history!)

In May, NASA’s experts made a breakthrough. They managed to move the data from the broken chip to working parts of Voyager’s computer. At last, the probe sent back a rational message.

NASA officials hope Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, will keep communicating until the 2030s. After that, these crafts will travel in silence. Each one carries a record of pictures and sounds from Earth.

The team at JPL needed patience and perseverance to fix Voyager 1. Imagine solving a puzzle, but it takes nearly two days to find out whether each piece fits. That’s just what NASA’s scientists did. Now Voyager 1 can continue teaching us about God’s brilliant universe.

Why? Space probes like Voyager 1 help make fascinating discoveries, but repairing them is hard work.

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