back to article The Reg chats with Voyager Imaging Team member Dr Garry E Hunt

It has been 41 years since the Voyager spacecraft left Earth to explore the outer solar system and, eventually, interstellar space. For the sole Brit on the Voyager imaging team, that journey began even earlier, in the 1960s, at Oxford University. Dr Garry E Hunt, then 26, had been working on atmospheric research at Oxford and …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "We had already realised that you could do Jupiter-Saturn-Uranus-Neptune, and we knew that if you filled up to brimming point the spacecraft with all the fuel it ever needed, it'd be OK. We did. But we never told anybody."

    Fait accompli. Always the best way.

    Fascinating article. Thanks.

    1. Chrissy

      "We knew that if you filled up to brimming point the spacecraft with all the fuel it ever needed"


      "He [Nixon] wouldn't agree to a funding for more than Saturn, because that would obviously take it into another presidential period, and he couldn't be sure of being in office, which he wasn't."

      ...which is why in an ideal world, politicians should be nowhere near deciding the micro level of science funding allocation.

      I mean seriously.... you've gone to the expense of building $millions worth of craft and launch system then balk at loading an extra 100 or 1000 bucks of fuel and tickover funding for a much smaller monitoring team going forward because "he couldn't be sure of being in office"!!

      Lucky we didn't have politicians at our neanderthal stage... we'd have never got out of the cave.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        That happens with people who reduce the whole Universe to their little ego. It's good sometimes they get the opposite of what they wished. Nixon could have been remembered here as a visionary who funded the Voyager project to expand our knowledge of the Solar Sytem, instead it has been remembered as a petty person who couldn't see beyond his selfish gains only.

        A big thank to those who ignored it and got enough fuel onboard.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Lucky we didn't have politicians at our neanderthal stage"

        Neanderthals were a different species with only a small genetic contribution to modern humans via interbreeding. Otherwise they're extinct. Perhaps they did have politicians.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          "Perhaps they did have politicians."

          I'm quite sure they did. The proof is they got extinct.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Perhaps they did have politicians.

          Perhaps they were politicians


          1. oiseau

            Perhaps they were politicians

            Indeed ...

            The ancestors to the present Tories/Republicans perhaps?



          2. Anonymous Coward

            "Perhaps they were politicians"

            No, in this case they would have survived (politics today is all about self-preservation) and lured the Homo Sapiens to send one of them to the White Cave.

        3. Lars Silver badge

          "Perhaps they did have politicians."

          I believe we got both politicians and priests from very early on.

        4. cantankerous swineherd

          nasty case of genocide if you ask me, but I wasn't there.

  2. TonyJ

    Fascinating read

    Thank you, El Reg.

    And of course, hats off and thank you to all of the team concerned in the endeavour!


  3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Great stuff

    Excellent article, although my brain still struggles to cope with the scale of an mission like this. I think what makes it so hard to comprehend is how well it worked despite the massive scale and complexity, while all around me I see relatively trivial government IT jobs spiraling out of control and way over budget.

    1. Mike Moyle

      Re: Great stuff

      Big minds do big things; small minds don't

      A reporter once asked Henry Kissinger, when he was teaching at Harvard, what it was like being in the genteel ivy-covered halls after having walked the corridors of power, managing earth-shaking conflicts. He replied with something to the effect that it's pretty much the same, except that in academia the battles are so much more vicious because the stakes are so much smaller.

      1. Joe Gurman

        Re: Great stuff

        Could be apocryphal: the standard joke is that academic politics are so vicious _because_ the stakes are so small.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: more vicious because the stakes are so much smaller.

        And what if you rate those stakes in proportion to the likely effect on the individual's career?

        A mismanaged conflict in a far off country might blight tens of millions of lives for decades to come, but would that have left Kissinger's career crippled? Probably not, which is why he (and all the other state-level actors) get to be so blase about the outcome.

  4. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Great interview!

    Fascinating behind-the-scenes look! Great thanks to Dr. Hunt and El Reg! That brought back so many fond memories from Apollo, Mariner, Viking, Pioneer, and of course Voyager. It was the people that made this possible that got me into astronomy, and indirectly (through image processing) computer science.

  5. }{amis}{
    Thumb Up

    True giants of science!

    Thank you Dr Garry for your contribution to science and humanity and to El Reg for going out there and getting such an interesting interview, more of this kind of stuff pretty please.

  6. Andrew Newstead

    Hope for us yet!

    It's stories like these that give me hope for us as a species. Coming up with incredible missions of discovery and keeping them going and fixing things on the other side of the Solar System as problems happen in the most inhospitable environments possible, absolutely inspiring!

    I remember seeing Dr Garry Hunt on the Sky at Night and Horizons and I always felt proud that we had a Brit on the project.

    Thanks Dr Hunt for what you did, you kept a late teen/young twenty something fascinated for years and thanks El Reg for bring this interview to us, much appreciated.

  7. The_H

    Everything about Voyager inspires awe

    It kept me enthralled as a kid, and the same spacecraft keep my kids enthralled 40 years later. That's quite something.

    I think the best thing about Voyager is not that they've worked flawlessly for 41 years - they haven't - but that in working around the problems, they've added an immense amount to our nuts'n'bolts knowledge of long term space missions. I worry that all of this expertise will be lost in the current US political climate.

    If anyone likes a good read, the Haynes Workshop Manual for Voyager is fascinating - worth the price for the blueprints alone.

    Raising a glass to all of those visionaries who "filled it to the brim".

  8. Chris G

    Boffin, Pioneer and a 'Name' in the galaxy

    For the foreseeable future no other Brit has his name in Interstellar space, in addition to which his work has changed how we track weather here on Earth.

    All that mucking about in space has contributed so much to us Earthworms.

  9. imanidiot Silver badge

    This is the sort of story I keep coming back to El Reg for. Thanks! Very interesting read.

  10. Anonymous Cowerd

    Was it a time machine too?

    "Voyager 2 would be launched first, followed by Voyager 1 a few months later in 1977"

    16 days later actually.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Voyager 2 would be launched first, followed by Voyager 1...

      The much less well known Voyager 0 got mothballed due to lack of funds, and never launched after Voyager 1 as planned. However, there have been recent attempts to reboot the mission by attracting funding from a well-known purveyor of brown fizzy water...

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where is this man's Knighthood?

      To be fair, the UK is still involved in some cracking space science like this today via ESA (although for how much longer, who knows!) today. Whilst Voyager 1 & 2 were incredible, the feat of the Rosetta mission might be the other space mission that should stand out in history books (it should not take long to realise just how complex a mission that was).

      Let’s hope that UK elects to continue being part of ESA, as these sorts of missions take more than just a small country of 66 million to pull off.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Where is this man's Knighthood?

        "Let’s hope that UK elects to continue being part of ESA, "

        There's no reason why not, it's not an EU body and Brexit doesn't affect ESA membership. The UK Gov seems to be interested in space science (well, building and selling satellites and the attendant tech anyway) so I'd be very surprised if we pulled out of ESA any time in the near future.

  12. &rew

    Inspirational stuff

    Brings a tear to the eye.

    Have a cold one.

  13. GrumpenKraut

    Lovely article

    Much appreciated, thanks! ------------->

  14. Geekpride
    Thumb Up

    Great achievement

    I can only applaud all those involved with the Voyager program. For what the craft have accomplished and how much we've learned from them, I say they stand among humanity's highest achievements.

  15. 0laf Silver badge

    I echo the comments above. Many pints due

  16. Sartori


    What a fantastic read, Voyager has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Wonderful to hear from someone who has been so involved with it from the start. Thank you for a great article, and all the earlier articles on Voyager!

  17. LeahroyNake


    Just think about this paragraph...

    'With his imaging team in place, and ready to accept reams of magnetic tape delivered direct from JPL to UCL via Boeing 747'

    Makes me think about the progress (and also lack of in certain areas) made since the launch. It would be nice to know the size of the data that was flown on magnetic tape for a new Reg unit / 747 full of tape ?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Perspective

      A 747 full of SD cards is still more bandwidth than the internet IIRC

      xkcd fedex-bandwidth

    2. cantankerous swineherd

      Re: Perspective

      never underestimate the bandwidth of a Boeing 747 full of magnetic tape.

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: Perspective

      The 11/780 probably had (a) DEC TU45 drive(s). That's 40 Megs per tape. From memory, the image size was up to 800pixels X 800scanlines X 8bits. In the (roughly) four months that the Voyagers spent near Jupiter, they sent back over 50,000 images. Seems to me they used a proprietary compression format, but I can't remember what kind of ratio they got with that. Estimating 3:1, my back of the envelope guestimate suggests around a dozen tapes per day when in proximity to a planet. Probably took a full minute to decompress with the VAX ... Things sure have changed.

      Pints all around.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Perspective

        Typo and a clarification ... That's about a dozen tapes per week, not per day. Brain said week, fingers typoed day. Mind of their own, I guess, as the bishop said to the actress ...

        Decompressing on the VAX would take about a minute per image.

      2. JMcL

        Re: Perspective


        "Probably took a full minute to decompress with the VAX ... Things sure have changed."

        In uni in the late 80's we had an 11/780 in the lab. During the course of a lecture in public/private keys, the lecturer set us a challenge to find the factors of R11 (i.e. 11111111111). I set an overnight brute force batch job going on the Vax at lowish priority in the unlikely event anybody would get annoyed. After around 6-7 hours processing time it spat out the answers and I was £5 to the better (a good night in the pub back in the day)

        Out of curiousity about 10 years ago I was playing around with multi-threading on a very bog standard Dell desktop and decided to see what effect multiple cores would have. Tried single threaded first to to make sure I'd gotten it right. Answer back immediately. Can't be right thought I. Checked it, it was right, the factorisation had taken approx 10ms.

        In retrospect, looking at the number written out it shouldn't have been a surprise, but I still think it's a fine example of the advances over a 20-25 year period.

  18. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    El Reg delivers.

    Lots of goodness. Maybe it will inspire more women to really go into tech?

    Btw, A Comet Revisited: Lessons Learned from Philaes Landing can be found in IEEE Software. As it is paywalled with a ridiculous price (USD 33 and the dollar has crashed yet, even), use DOI "10.1109/MS.2018.2801542" at the Hub of Science, Taiwan for a complimentary copy. You know the drill.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: El Reg delivers.

      "You know the drill."

      Is that the one that made the hole in the Soyuz?

  19. chuckufarley Silver badge

    Thanks El Reg...

    ...fir another great interview. Please keep them coming, and I promise that I will turn off my ad blocker while reading them.

  20. Lars Silver badge

    One Brit and eight Americans

    looking at the picture and the names of "The Voyager Imaging Team" and just a while ago at the "The migration advisory committee report" in Britain about education:


    There is no evidence that parents’ choice is reduced by the migrant population.

    Children with English as a second language perform better than native English speakers."

    In that picture we have Carl Sagan, parents from now Ukraine, no introduction needed and Verner Suomi, parents from Finland, called the father of "satellite meteorology.".

    And there is Larry Soderblom a very Scandinavian (Söderblom), no info on his background.

    As there obviously are no native Americans, all the remaining guys have a background from probably Europe.

    What made America great, at least then, is the influx of people from all around the world and that goes for Britain too. But people tend to forget it.


  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Textbooks are too damned expensive to waste

    I was taking an astronomy class in college when the flyby of Saturn occured - ok, so I am a bit old. But back to the story. Our prof had a friend at JPL, and the next day he walked into class and said "throw away your textbook, and let's take a look at these pictures my buddy sent me" That was a great time to be studying astronomy.

  22. toffer99

    Terrific article -well done. I came from scanning through Mail Online, the hate paper. It was like climbing out of a lagoon of pigshit and stepping under a clean, cool shower.

  23. Zebo-the-Fat


    Just shows what skilled engineers can do (despite politicians!)

    I wonder how the flat earth crowd explain it all though (all faked maybe??)

  24. Stevie


    Would Doctor Hunt be interested in the fact that the Uranus phase of the mission was celebrated with a front page headline in the Long Island Newsday?

    "Voyager Passes Uranus And Moons!"

    I sometimes wonder what the rejected draughts of that headline looked like.

  25. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

    And not one reference to that documentary about one of them coming back in a few centuries - and threatening havoc on the planet.

  26. Herby

    Regards to "Golden Record"...

    I am reminded that shortly after the launch of the spacecraft, there was an update on Saturday Night Live (Weekend Update).

    This just in from space.....


    Yes, Johnny B. Goode was on the record!

    Me? I was in my PFY days helping out some on the Radioscience team. The PI was in an office upstairs.

  27. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    Fascinating read, thank you very much.

  28. BoldMan

    Back in 1981, I was studying astrophysics at Queen Mary College and was editor of the in-house magazine called "h-bar by two". We had Patrick Moore as a guest lecturer for the introductory Astronomy course and on this occasion he'd just got back fro Pasadena from covering the Saturn fly by. Being a cheeky scrote I asked him if he'd write something for my magazine about the new discoveries. His response was "Find me an office, a typewriter and a cup of coffee - I've got an hour to spare before the lecture". Lo and behold 45 mins later he handed me 5 sheets of double-spaced A4 with a superb summary of what had happened. I asked him to autograph it and I still have it almost 40 years later :) Great bloke and a great time to be in astronomy!

    1. jake Silver badge

      Those 5 sheets ...

      ... need to be scanned, transcribed, and placed online where people can find them. And the originals need to be properly archived (de-acidified, nitrogen atmosphere, etc. as required) & loaned to an air & space museum somewhere, where other people can see them. You, sir, own a proper bit of treasure, similar to a wet-ink EWD. Share! :-)

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