back to article Eight-hour comms lags and shock discoveries: 30 years after Voyager 2 visited gas giant Neptune

As the world took down the bunting from the Apollo 11 celebrations, another anniversary rolled around: this weekend marked 30 years since Voyager 2 had its final planetary encounter, with Neptune. The closest approach of the giant by the long-lived probe occurred on 25 August 1989 and represented humanity's first, and only, …

  1. Korev Silver badge


    More stories like this please -->

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      We'll need to send more probes for that. I would heartily agree to send a probe in orbit around Neptune.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        After probing Neptune, one presumes probing Uranus would be the next obvious mission

        1. Simon Harris

          I really don't want to know what's in those coat pockets!

          1. m0rt

            ky jelly?

            1. Unicornpiss

              The juice and toast were delicious..

              ..but I didn't care for the Kentucky jelly..

              1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
                Paris Hilton

                Re: The juice and toast were delicious..

                ..but I didn't care for the Kentucky jelly..

                May I suggest Kerry Gold Butter!!!

                ...KY - Abbreviation for County Kerry in Ireland on car registrations

                Icon: Last Tango in...

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Uhm, we might soon have no choice ... after this "closet approach" (p2)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Sorry, not on a first date...

          1. Kane

            "Sorry, not on a first date..."

            How many dates then?

            1. Korev Silver badge

              Fresh or dried?

        3. phuzz Silver badge

          I assume the elReg headline writers are already warming up their double entendre's...

          1. Old69

            "[...] are already warming up their double entendre's..."

            Cold ones - "ouch!"

          2. Alister

            their double entendre's

            Ooh look, a greengrocer's apostrophe in the wild!

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              "Ooh look, a greengrocer's apostrophe in the wild!"

              It was followed by an elipsis - so could have been a possessive for a following word. eg "position".

            2. phuzz Silver badge

              I got confused trying to work out if "entendre" counts as an English word, seeing as we use it so much.

              Also I'm an idiot who should proofread better.

      2. TVU Silver badge

        "We'll need to send more probes for that. I would heartily agree to send a probe in orbit around Neptune"

        Sadly these days, certain specific planets, Neptune, Uranus and Venus, have effectively been left out of future mission planning by the Western space agencies of NASA, ESA and JAXA and I'd like to see that remedied with more inter-agency cooperation to reduce costs.

  2. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    Fascinating indeed - to think of the planning that went into this, to ensure mission success.

    Also, a --->

    for the team responsible!

    1. big_D Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      You see, humanity can look beyond the end of its nose and next quarters financial results. Now, if we just used such forward thinking in our every day lives...

      1. Mark 85

        Lovely thought and I agree but human nature/stupidity and all that gets in the way.

      2. Barry Mahon

        Exactly, unfortunately, even JPL has to answer to the bean counters.

        For me the image near the end of the documentary film Voyager which shows the earth as a miniscule dot in an equally miniscule environment of millions of stars tells the tale of how arrogant we are about ourselves.

        We are just that, a tiny dot.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "We are just that, a tiny dot."

          and even that comparison overestimates the size by several magnitudes.

        2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

          Yeah, but we're a tiny dot with enormous reach for our size. I think it's amazing that we were able to build and control a space probe that is today leaving out solar system, considering that at the time of launch:

          - Automobiles were still largely carbureted

          - Disco was big

          - Computers with RAM in the 512 BIT range, forget megabits, were expensive and blazing fast

          - People were still using typewriters

          - Cassette tapes were the coming thing

          - precision metal cutting for spacecraft parts was done by a person with a saw, a file, a micrometer and a magnifying glass instead of a CAD machine

          With the technical advances we made since the Voyagers were launched, you'd think we should be able to launch a spacecraft today that would catch both Voyagers by this time next year to give them a refurbish.

          1. Unicornpiss

            Different times..

            As someone who lives in the USA and was a kid when the Voyagers were launched, I thought I'd add a few thoughts.

            -Some people born after the launches are now grandparents. Quite a few are deceased too.

            -Long distance calls were still pricey. So were pocket calculators.

            -eMail? Hey, you spelled Mail wrong.. What's a BBS?

            -Climate change? What do you mean?

            -The Concorde was offering supersonic international travel. A great loss IMHO when it stopped flying and something we've yet to return to. The moon landings were still relatively fresh in our memories as well.

            -While awful things have happened in the world since the dawn of humanity, mass shootings and other mayhem by civilians were pretty much unheard of. Not an easy time, but gentler in some ways.

            -Civil rights/LBGTA rights have come a long way since then. (though much still to be done)

            -The ARPANET was thinking of branching out..

            -The arcade craze had yet to begin, flourish, wane, and crash.

            -Commodore, Tandy, and 2 guys named Steve were thinking there might be a market for microcomputers. A guy named Bill, with a terrible driving record, was thinking of coding a better BASIC.

            -Beer in the US was mostly terrible. (glad I wasn't drinking yet)

            -Pink Floyd was alive and well and touring with Roger Waters.

            -CB radio was the chat application of the time. Heathkit was flourishing too.

            -Somehow the water heater in my home, built in 1975, is still working (Did the JPL folks somehow design it??)

            Keep on truckin' Voyagers..

            1. oldfartuk

              Re: Different times..

              When I was 13 i spent my birthday money and savings on a Heathkit valved Oscilloscope OS-1. It took me 18 hours to build (in one sitting), and worked second time on power up (dry solder joint stopped it first time). As i recall it cost me £75, which in 1971 was a LOT of money. I had it years, never went wrong. Wish i'd kept it, they worth a fortune now.

          2. oldfartuk

            In terms of technology, the Voyagers are flying Strowger Telephone Exchanges

  3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Voyager: The Most Amazing Unmanned Mission

    I followed all the Viking, Mariner, Pioneer and Voyager missions avidly (and most missions since), but Voyager has a special place in my heart, because it achieved so much. Amazing that these craft are still active, and adding to our knowledge, bit by bit. A HUGE thank you to all those involved in these epic missions!

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first
      Thumb Up

      Re: Voyager: The Most Amazing Unmanned Mission

      A thousand upvotes for this.

    2. Simon Harris

      Re: Voyager: The Most Amazing Unmanned Mission

      We're now about mid way between the 42nd anniversary of the launches of Voyager 2 (20 Aug 1977) and Voyager 1 (5 Sept 1977), and both still recording science on 4 or 5 instruments.

      To put the mission in context, Hunt also told us: "My elder daughter came to work with me during this encounter. When I wrote my proposal to NASA for this mission, she was five years old; at the time of the encounter she was a PhD student at Cambridge!"

      That should earn them the title of honorary generation ships, even if they are unmanned and all the analysis is done on Earth.

    3. Sartori

      Re: Voyager: The Most Amazing Unmanned Mission

      Absolutely, there have been many great space missions over the decades, but Voyager is just something else. Truly an inspiring mission and even now, it's still boldly going where nothing built by humans has gone before. Well done to everyone involved in Voyager, what an achievement!

      1. Mark 85

        Re: Voyager: The Most Amazing Unmanned Mission

        Sadly, I do believe that most people and governments have long forgot this along with the goals and hopes for future work out there.

  4. Neal L

    You really do have to admire the planning and scientific know how that goes into these sort of missions. The fact they also went beyond the original mission to learn even more is icing on the cake. Hats of to them, let's hope we can continue to make discoveries like this.

    1. aberglas

      It was always planned

      They like to limit what they promise to do in case it goes wrong. E.g. too much fuel required to change orbits along the way.

      But amazing what those old computers could do.

      And they were not even running SystemD or Windows!

      1. GX5000

        Re: It was always planned

        The Montgomery Scott Guide To Project Management Skills.

  5. GrumpenKraut


    Science article appreciation pint -------->

  6. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Thanks for this

    I stand in awe at the far-sightedness of the people who designed, built and continue to track these craft.

    They are in dramatic contrast to the so-called leaders we have.

    1. Mark 85

      Re: Thanks for this

      Let's not forget to toast especially those who unnamed heros went ahead and filled the tanks completely instead of doing what they were told.

  7. T. F. M. Reader

    Proper requirement analysis

    I keep telling younger colleagues (which means all of them, damn...), "Requirements will change, plan accordingly." They listen politely and then keep doing the minimum of what was asked for, and often less than that...

    With Voyager, someone must have planned larger than necessary fuel tanks, while others took into consideration the extra bulk and weight (that likely mattered at launch, for manoeuvring in interplanetary space, for re-focusing cameras and whatever), and yet others filled those tanks with fuel that was ordered by procurement, etc.... And in the end it turned out handy when requirements did change...

    And in my imagination when the question of visiting Uranus and Neptune came up the first time during a stand-up morning meeting no one in the agile team said, "But this was not in the original specification and there is no story for that!"

    Those good old days when “spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.”

    1. Killing Time

      Re: Proper requirement analysis

      In fairness, New Horizons has completed one extra science mission and will probably achieve a third due to the forethought / planning of the project team and it must be acknowledged, the administrators.

      Both groups manage to schmooze the politicians into signing off realistic budgets to support further science along the way.

      Long may it continue!

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Proper requirement analysis

      And all dared to brave unknown terrors to do mighty deeds to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before.

      1. Kane

        Re: Proper requirement analysis

        And thus was the Empire forged.

    3. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Proper requirement analysis

      But you want these missions to succeed 99.99% of the time. So they are deliberately over-engineered. And if that extra capacity remains unused it can be retasked once the primary goal is achieved - provided the politicians can be talked into the opex.

    4. SW10

      Re: Proper requirement analysis

      someone must have planned larger than necessary fuel tanks, while others took into consideration the extra bulk and weight

      Remember that they were spending government money during the Cold War, and fewer than ten years after the moon landing...

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Proper requirement analysis

      "They listen politely and then keep doing the minimum of what was asked for, and often less than that...

      It was a bone of contention when Crosby Quality was flavour of the day. Management forbade what they saw as "over-engineering" - which we called "allowing for open-ended design". They conveniently forgot their proscriptions when our covert approach saved the day when a requirement did change just before delivery.

  8. Dabooka

    Proper good read this

    More of the same please. Much more.

    Amazing story this, great reading the sheer numbers and achievements with these probes.

  9. Stevie


    Perhaps the saddest thing to reflect upon is that when the archeologists of the Beetles that will replace humans as the future top level civilization of the Earth come to examine our historical record, none of the magnificent starships we invented will be available for study because they weren't real.

    1. Raphael

      Re: Bah!

      But it will confuse the hell out of the Beetle Overlords whilst they try figure out how we achieved it all.

      now to go dig up that dinosaur fossil holding the "End Nuclear Testing Now" placard....

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    8 hours?? Pah!!!

    I have a dozen posts stuck in moderation every week for longer than that!!!

    Really inspiring story, i avidly collected science and scifi magazine articles about Voyager as a child; and still pop over to "Heavens Above" to see how its journey is progressing.

    Paris?? We've seen the rest, now we want to see Uranus.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: 8 hours?? Pah!!!

      We've seen the rest...

      Ooh, you are awful, but I like you!


      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: 8 hours?? Pah!!!

        @Ian Emery

        Do you think Paris is a fan of Dick?

  11. oldfartuk

    got to admit, its pretty good for a bunch of old Type 3000 post office relays and and some OC71 transistors.......

  12. Paul Herber Silver badge

    I don't know why they didn't just use more power to get the signals back quicker! Laws of physics? Pah!

    1. Zack Mollusc

      .... wouldn't it also require the polaruty to be revesed?

      1. HelpfulJohn Bronze badge

        No, not if they used a triaxialating frequency over an anti-neutrino laced tachyon-burst verteron radiation, rotating frequency, spread spectrum Omega channel with a narrowed confinement beam.

        Just as an aside, that last has bothered me a little for decades. Just about every week on "ST:Voyager", the super-smart engineer would need to narrow the confinement beam to get the magic transporters to work. I wondered why she didn't just set them to super-narrow *all* *the* *time*. Between that and not strengthening the shields every ten minutes, in addition to rotating the frequencies, both of which she could have set up on her very first shift, she could have taken loads more time off.

        Maybe then she wouldn't have been so grumpy?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sounds like our management's suggestions after they outsourced something to India - with the same thin client on Windows that had been used on a local lan.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To put the mission in context, Hunt also told us: "My elder daughter came to work with me during this encounter. When I wrote my proposal to NASA for this mission, she was five years old; at the time of the encounter she was a PhD student at Cambridge!"

    Another context is that 35 years ago I was in my final year at Oxford studying maths and one of my third year options was Error Correcting Codes .... I remember the lecturer describing the level of error-correcting used for Voyager and even then he said he was astonished that we were still in contact with it .... 35 years later its even more staggering!

  14. Robert Helpmann??

    What's in a defninition

    ...the eighth, and farthest, planet in the Solar System.

    Not when the Voyager craft were launched, no. Then there were 9 and we were looking for number 10. This retrospective on a wonderful program should unite the masses. Don't sneak any reminders of the planetary discrimination we have more recently been forced to endure into the story. It's too soon.

  15. John Sturdy

    Closet approach?

    I'm intrigued by the idea of a spacecraft making a closet approach to a planet. For fear of defensive inhabitants?

    (Now I've said that, someone will probably edit the original...)

  16. WereWoof


    V`Ger will return in the 2270s

    1. ItsMeDammit

      Re: Return

      ... coming in from the opposite direction to that which it left proving the universe to be toroidal in nature and all those games of Asteroids as a kid finally pay off.

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