Proof of what we can do

A momentous occasion occurred for humankind without any tickertape parades, a big-money promotional tour or any celebrity controversy.

Voyager 1 has left the solar system.

That makes the little space probe, a scientific darling since its launch in 1977, the first object made on Earth to travel out of the solar system. It is 12 billion miles away and still is sending signals back to its handlers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the home of the human space stars who never leave the ground.

JPL is where the handlers for the Mars probes and other interplanetary probes work, providing humanity with amazing images and mountains of data to unlock the secrets of the galaxy.

There is not a border out there beyond the region of Pluto where Voyager crossed, so it took a year or more of debate before scientists were willing to make a public declaration about the bus-sized spaceship’s relative position to the solar system earlier this month. It is still running its systems to receive and beam back data on magnetic fields and particle data.

It’s not likely that Voyager will meet aliens, let alone aliens with a record player, but there is a gold disc aboard with greetings from 1977. That disc has been the stuff of science fiction stories with a “what if” flair about what other life forms might think of us based on those sounds. Perhaps the most memorable of those was “Star Trek The Motion Picture” back in 1979, featuring the fictional Voyager 6 being sent back home by benevolent intelligent life forms to reunite with its creator.

The real Voyager 1 will continue operating normally until about 2020, when its batteries finally will begin to lose strength, some 43 years after launch. That is an amazing feat of engineering. Program monitors at JPL, some of whom surely will have spent their professional lifetime with the probe, will then begin shutting down systems toward an expected complete loss of signal sometime in 2025.

Voyager 1 is proof that science and engineering can achieve marvels. Think of the technology that didn’t exist back in the 1970s when the Voyager series was put together and consider how reliable and long-lived this probe has been.

It should cause us to consider that if humans can solve problems and create such a machine, imagine what we could do here on earth if politics, wars and international intrigue didn’t interfere.