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NASA Extends Life of Voyager 2 Program in Surprising Fashion

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Voyager 2 has been in space for the better part of the past half-century, and its lifespan just increased thanks to a new maneuver from NASA officials. As the space agency was gearing up to shut down one of the five instruments aboard the spacecraft to help extend its life, engineers found a new solution that will both extend its life and keep all instruments usable for a little while longer.

Instead, those on the Voyager 2 mission are now relying on the craft’s radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), an instrument that uses the heat from decaying plutonium stored on the craft and coverts it into electricity. Now, engineers have discovered a safety mechanism (initially intended to help monitor the flow of electricity) that can tap into the RTG and access the small amount of power it has been keeping in reserve.

At the very least, the move will delay the closure of an instrument until 2026 instead of shutting one down this year. By 2026, Voyager 2 will have spent 51 years in space with all five of its instruments returning data to NASA headquarters.

“The science data that the Voyagers are returning gets more valuable the farther away from the Sun they go, so we are definitely interested in keeping as many science instruments operating as long as possible,” Voyager project scientist Linda Spilker said in a release on the NASA JPL website.

Both Voyager 2 and its twin craft in Voyager 1 have been in interstellar space for at least five years now. Voyager 1 crossed into interstellar space—otherwise known as any location outside of our solar system—in 2012 while Voyager 2 reached interstellar space in 2018. When the crafts were both launched, they were expected to only run for four years.

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 each famously include one of the fabled Golden Records, which is embedded with various messages from Earth should alien civilizations manage to come across the crafts. Amongst various items on the records is a recording of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and a message from then-president Jimmy Carter.

“We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations,” Carter reportedly says on the record. “This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”

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