Voyager Space Probe Back to Normal Operations After Months of Sending Garbled Data

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NASA’s Voyager 1 probe, the most distant human-made object in the Universe, has resumed transmitting useful information to ground control after several months of sending gibberish, the US space agency announced on Monday.

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The probe ceased sending intelligible data to Earth on November 14, 2023, but NASA was still able to communicate with it, indicating that it was receiving commands despite the data issues.

In March, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory discovered that a single faulty chip caused the problem. They came up with a clever coding fix that worked within the limited memory capacity of the probe’s 46-year-old computer system.

“The Voyager 1 spacecraft is returning usable data about the health and status of its onboard engineering systems,” NASA stated. “The next step is to enable the spacecraft to begin returning science data again.”

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 was humanity’s first spacecraft to enter the interstellar medium, reaching that milestone in 2012. It is now over 15 billion miles from Earth. Because of the vast distance, messages from Earth take about 22.5 hours to reach the spacecraft.

Its twin, Voyager 2, also left the solar system, crossing into interstellar space in 2018.

Both Voyager spacecraft carry “Golden Records,” 12-inch gold-plated copper disks designed to share the story of humanity with extraterrestrials. These records contain a map of our solar system, a piece of uranium to help extraterrestrials date the spacecraft’s launch, and symbolic instructions on how to play the record.

The content on the Golden Records was chosen by a committee chaired by the legendary astronomer Carl Sagan. It includes encoded images depicting life on Earth, as well as music and sounds that can be played using an included stylus.

The power sources for the Voyager probes are expected to run out sometime after 2025. After that, they will continue to drift through the Milky Way, possibly forever, without power and communication, but carrying their unique cargo of humanity’s messages to the cosmos.

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