Voyager program

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The Voyager program is a series of U.S. unmanned space missions that consists of a pair of unmanned scientific probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. They were launched in 1977 to take advantage of a favorable planetary alignment of the late 1970s. Although they were officially designated to study just Jupiter and Saturn, the two probes were able to continue their mission into the outer solar system. They are currently on course to eventually exit the solar system. These probes were built at JPL and were funded by NASA. Voyager 1 is currently the farthest human-made object from Earth.

Both missions have gathered large amounts of data about the gas giants of the solar system, of which little was previously known. In addition, the spacecraft trajectories have been used to place limits on the existence of a hypothetical post-Plutonian Planet X.

Contents

History

The Voyager probes were originally conceived as part of the Mariner program, and designated Mariner 11 and Mariner 12, respectively. They were then moved into a separate program named Mariner Jupiter-Saturn, later retitled Voyager because it was felt that the probes' designs had moved sufficiently far from the Mariner family that they merited a separate name.[1] Voyager is essentially a scaled-back version of the Grand Tour program of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Grand Tour's plan was to send a pair of probes to fly by all the outer planets; it was scaled back because of budget cuts. However, in the end, Voyager fulfilled all the Grand Tour flyby objectives except for Pluto, which at the time was considered a planet by the IAU.

Of the pair, Voyager 2 was launched first. Its trajectory was designed to take advantage of an unusually convenient alignment of the planets allowing the inclusion of Uranus and Neptune fly bys in the probe's mission. Voyager 1 was launched after its sister probe, but on a faster trajectory which enabled it to reach Jupiter and Saturn sooner at the consequence of not visiting the outer planets. Although Pluto was possible in its trajectory, it was eventually decided to make a close fly-by of Titan while examining Saturn instead, which would preclude a later fly-by of Pluto.[2]

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