Nothing final about this frontier

One fictional television captain tells us that space is the final frontier.

First spoken in 1966, those words have resonated with many and inspired countless numbers to take up a career in astrophysics, rocketry, and the like.

Many joined NASA and it’s been a busy period for the National Aeronautics and Space Agency of recent weeks.

The latest achievement has been the confirmation of a probe, the first of two launched in 1977 called Voyager but somewhat confusingly called Voyager 2 — to enter interstellar space.

In the first week of November, 2018 Voyager 2, launched 16 days before Voyager 1, reached what is called the heliopause.

This is the nominal boundary between the solar system and interstellar space.

This information was confirmed as fact in early December, 2018.

The distance between Earth and the Sun is averaged at 149.6 million kilometres.

Light from our life giving star takes eight minutes to reach our atmosphere.

This distance is also known as an AU, or Astronomical Unit.

Astronomers measure the solar system in AUs.

When Voyager 1 crossed that invisible demarcation in August 2012, it was at a distance of 142.31 Astronomical Units.

That works out to be 21.289 billion kilometres.

Voyager 2 crossed at 119.7 AUs, a distance that takes light at just under 300,000 kilometres per second to reach Earth after 16.5 light hours.

Its speed? Over 15 kilometres per second.

Both probes were sent on a sort of Grand Tour, with both craft’s missions effectively named as such.

Both were sent to the outer reaches via the solar system’s two biggest planets, Jupiter and Saturn.

Both missions were intended to investigate the planets and their moons, including the massive Titan that orbits Saturn.

Fuel conservation and speed increases were done by virtue of using a gravity-powered slingshot.

By being placed into an orbit that had the craft graze the upper edges of the atmosphere and use the gravity of the planet to grab hold of the probe, then allowing the orbit to release at a greatly increased speed, both Voyagers were able to save fuel and complete their journeys at an ever increasing pace.

The data gathered is still being measured and investigated.

And, in a nod to the grand scale of what the Voyager missions were intended to achieve, just 18 months after their launch, the first Star Trek movie featured a probe called V’ger.

More of the lettering was uncovered later to reveal the words Voyager 6, much like the real thing, sent to the final frontier to learn all that is learnable.

NASA continues to explore, and push back, that final frontier.

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