back to article Voyager 1 data corrupted by onboard computer that 'stopped working years ago'

NASA knows the how but not the why of a telemetry data routing snafu that caused "garbled" information about the 45-year-old Voyager 1 probe's position to be sent to mission controllers on the ground. The space agency's engineers announced a fix of the issue last night, saying they'd discovered the data was being routed …

  1. ectel

    70's Tec

    "When was the last time you did some troubleshooting on 1970s tech? Let us know in the comments below."

    Well my knees are feeling a bit creeky, and I'm 70's Tec

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: 70's Tec

      I have an old Fender reverb unit (solid state) that was made in the 70's. A few years ago I took it completely apart, cleaned it out really well with contact cleaner [the dust inside stank like cigarettes, bad enough to give me a headache], and re-soldered the solder joints on the circuit board and cleaned up the 1/4" audio jacks and whatnot. Worked a LOT better (had proper gain again) and no more scratchy noise.

      The traces on the circuit board looked like they were done by hand using a French Curve. And the parts have a LOT of space between them, not like a pocket radio from the same time period where parts are all crammed together.

      (the reverb itself sounds really good when playing surf-style music or Brian Setzer kinda stuff)

      1. Simon Harris

        Re: 70's Tec

        Looking at some early microcomputer PCBs you see the same curves.

        There must have been some point in the late 70s/early 80s when curvy hand laid tracks gave way to the straight lines of PCB CAD systems.

        1. NXM

          Re: 70's Tec

          A lot of the time then boards were designed using black sticky tape at 2x scale, then you reduded it when doing the photography.

          1. Simon Harris

            Re: 70's Tec

            Used to do mine like that when I was doing my final year BSc project - a mixture of black tape and 2x Alfac transfers.

            Designed with coloured pens on 0.2” graph paper, then overlaid with drafting film and transfers/tape for each layer, and then sent off to be reduced to create the final photo etching masks.

            One of my first work projects after my degree was writing a high resolution printer driver for our new PCB CAD system, and I never used the transfers again.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: 70's Tec

      Maybe I should boot my IMSAI 8080 ... I don't expect any problems because it's still at room temperature.

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: 70's Tec

      I've recently been working on replacing the transformer in a '70s NAD 3070 receiver.

      Was made more difficult by it being a specific part with 35-0-35V, 25-0-25V, 19-0-19V and 0-14V windings. Only place to find one was from a scrap one, which just aren't around. Eventually used a transformer from a 3020 (which are more common, so are scrapped more frequently) plus a small auxiliary transformer for the tuner and tuning scale lamp (which was replaced by LEDs).

      Just finished last week (I had previously re-cap'd a while back before the transformer shorted some windings). Sounds amazing again.

      Not quite so complex, and not quite so remote, so I guess it doesn't really count, but you did ask!

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: 70's Tec @Me.

        Aaargh! Nad 7020. I thought it looked wrong at the time I wrote it, but did not work out why until after the 10 minutes was up!

      2. Sudosu

        Re: 70's Tec

        You may be able to get new transformers wound up to meet your needs...I think Edcor used to do that if they are still around.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 70's Tec

      xkcd 1780 - very true.

    5. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: 70's Tec

      I own and collect numerous bits of 70's hifi tech. Usually it's bad capacitors or resistors drifting from spec.

      So far I've yet to push the kit enough to have chip failures but I could probably sort them too.

      1. mistersaxon

        Re: 70's Tech

        Just resurrected a Quad303/33 system which is actually 60's tech, though it really needed wiring and cleaning more than major surgery. Sounds good though...

        1. CAPS LOCK

          "Quad303/33" - awesome. All audio equipment should be...

          ...painted Post Office green.

  2. stuartnz

    Can't argue with that

    ""ultimate telesurgery,"" - troubleshooting 50 year old tech that's in temps below 10K at ~20 light hours away, not many CVs could top that for work experience . Take YET ANOTHER bow, NASA

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      I absolutely agree.

      NASA and its engineers have done a stellar job on building and maintaining Voyager and the science we have recovered with it is priceless.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Pint

        Magnificent! Again!

        I wonder, though, what got into Voyager's OS when it decided to route the data to the computer that the boffins had marked as inoperable instead of the operable one they had been using? Probably a random cosmic ray, but with a decided flavor of Who Me?

        1. First Light Silver badge

          Is Voyager becoming sentient in its old age?

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Is Voyager becoming sentient in its old age?

            Please, the name is V'ger

            1. that one in the corner Silver badge

              Re: Is Voyager becoming sentient in its old age?

              Which reminds me, Saturday is National Cinema Day: three quid tickets and they are showing ST:TMP (and/or ST:WoK depending upon cinema chain)

              1. Sudosu

                Re: Is Voyager becoming sentient in its old age?

                As someone who has not been to the theater in ages, I would pay full fare to see either of those movies.

          2. Sudosu

            Old satellite yells at Oort cloud.

      2. ian 22

        I'd go with interstellar job.

      3. Scott 53

        Not any more

        NASA and its engineers have done a stellar job

        I think it's now interstellar.

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    07734

    > When was the last time you did some troubleshooting on 1970s tech?

    A few years ago ... Okaaaay, maybe 10 years ago, I cleaned up the leaky batteries in my Sinclair Scientific calculator.

    It still wouldn't work though :(

    1. ITMA Bronze badge

      Re: 07734

      Did it ever work? LOL

      Early Sinclair electronics were not exactly known for their reliability. Especially containing Sinclair specific ICs

    2. David M

      Re: 07734

      My Sinclair Cambridge Memory (1975-ish?) is still going strong. OK, it randomly turns itself off occasionally due to an iffy power switch, but given its age, I think that's forgivable.

      1. _gh_

        Re: 07734

        Missing the 70s by 2 years my Casio FX180P is still in use - as it was released in 1980 it's probably still 70s tech - though the move from LED to LCD was a huge improvement for my high school/uni budget. From a new 9V alkaline battery each week during a levels to a pair of AAs every 5 years or so at Uni and ever since.

        1. David Hicklin Bronze badge

          Re: 07734

          Similar here - 1980's tech Casio FX-82, still in daily use

      2. skswales

        Re: 07734

        Unlike Sir Clive, my Sinclair Scientific Programmable (1977 vintage) is still with us. Bit of falling-apart foam in the battery compartment. Still got the sample program cards.

    3. ian 22

      Re: 07734

      I replenished the graphite lubricant on my aluminium slide rule from the 1960s just last week.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I regret I have but only one upvote

    for this story

    1. EricB123 Bronze badge

      Re: I regret I have but only one upvote

      Any reason that you replied anonymously?

      Your comment was uplifting, and certainly not controversial in any way.

  5. Rosie Davies

    6 Months Ago

    Traynor YGL-3 Mk III, crackly pots. Contact cleaner.

    Not _exactly_ the same level of cleverness but you did ask. Also the Traynor is loud enough to make your ears bleed whereas Voyager is silent.

    Rosie

  6. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

    The delay might not be secrecy of course - it'll take time to confirm that there actually is a problem with the craft, not the telescope, the decoder software - you don't announce a problem in the Voyager spacecraft until you've done your due diligence and confirmed that your end works fine.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      And, of course, you never announce a bug until you either have a fix ready to deploy or you have confirmed the 3vi1 Haxxors can't leverage it for root privileges :-)

    2. Down not across Silver badge

      Worth keeping in mind the almost two day roundtrip for the communications. I suspect there were fair few command/reply sequnces involved.

  7. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Foresight

    The original engineers must have been almost obsessive. The amount of foresight they had into possible problems, and provisioning they supplied 'just in case' boggles the mind!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Foresight

      I think knowing this was a one time shot probably helped focus their minds too. It would not be possible again in their lifetimes.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Foresight

      > The original engineers must have been almost obsessive.

      They were just engineers: Measure thrice, cut once. None of that "you need to build that a lot faster and cheaper" marketing malarkey.

      Just look how long older appliances lasted, compared to modern ones. All right, the older appliances couldn't spy on you, but if push comes to shove that's something I can live without, if absolutely necessary.

      1. waldo kitty
        Big Brother

        Re: Foresight

        Just look how long older appliances lasted, compared to modern ones.

        cars... older ones just run and run and run... in an accident, you can actually buff out the damage... with modern cars, there's no amount of buffing damage out and they seem to be engineered to be thrown away after 5 years... it really is a sad state of affairs...

        Kappa -->

        1. boatsman

          Re: Foresight

          1980s alfa romeo built in south italy being the exception....

          one could hear them rust .....

          1. Richmond Avenal

            It wasn't just Alfa

            There's no question that Alfa have been plagued with by far the worst corrosion problems, but other makes were not routinely rust proofed and would develop their own issues over time. I remember my Dad complaining when replacing the sills on a Vauxhall Chevette. He had to cut out so much metal before he could find something he could actually weld to.

            I had an Alfa 147 for a while, absolutely lovely car, and notably rust free. I believe most manufacturers began using galvanised metal in the early 2000s, before mine was made. Good to keep an eye on the subframes though.

          2. LDS Silver badge

            Re: Foresight

            That's when Alfa Romeo went south... because of political directions. Just like NASA now has to listen to politicians telling it where things have to be built...

          3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Foresight

            British Leyland cars. Even the log-book would rust :-)

            1. TeeCee Gold badge

              Re: Foresight

              Vauxhall PA.

              Rumour has it that Vauxhall put the rust in during manufacture to save time.

          4. C 7

            Re: Foresight

            1980s cars in general being the exception. They were exceptionally bad, nearly all of them, and in the mid '90s finally started to get better again. One can find a number of '70s and earlier cars on the used market in decent running shape, and a number from the '90s forward, but not a lot from the '80s. Besides, even if they did run, who really wants a Ford mustang-that-looks-like-an-escort, or a K car, or any of the other hideous machines that were built in that era?

    3. waldo kitty
      Windows

      Re: Foresight

      this is known as "paying attention to all the details"... something which is sorely lacking in much of today's projects and code...

      that's an old guy, not a windows user -->

  8. TheGriz

    Vger

    And lets not forget, that 200-300 years from now, Vger will return as a fully autonomous, AI intelligent explorer, wanting to offload all of it's data to "the creator". :)

    Any volunteers to "merge" with the probe when that happens? LOL

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Vger

      That was Voyager VI. That's why NASA stopped to name probes Voyager after two of them...

      Still, if the probe drone is scantily clad as in any Star Trek story, especially those involving Kirk, people will line up to merge.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Comeeeeeee baaaaaaaaack

    You forgot your keys

    1. milliemoo83

      Re: Comeeeeeee baaaaaaaaack

      NORWEB want a word about that light you left on in the bathroom.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Upgrade

    I'm surprised it hasn't been broken by a mandatory "security" updated that is really just a bunch of bugs designed to try to get you to upgrade your device.

  11. Shannon Jacobs

    Early 80's database still alive

    The oldest tech I'm still using and maintaining is a database app that I wrote in the early 80s, but the data in the database goes all the way back to 1971. In the earliest days it was actually a list updated with a typewriter. (I still had a typewriter until 1989.) I use it about 3 times per week, booting up an old multi-boot machine with a 20-MB DOS partition. I was never able to set up an emulator that could support the FCBs properly, but it's become a concern. It's an ancient ThinkPad, and built like a tank, but how long can it keep going?

    Pretty sure that there are very few bugs in the code, but I sometimes edit it to add functionality. I remember adding a rolling window for the Year 2000 problem, and there was a decade tweak around 2011, too. However the main recent modification was a new statistical function that was added about 3 or 5 years back. Major problems because I had forgotten about the internal editor, so when I used an external editor the handling of the CRLFs was quite different.

    I mentioned the typewriter, but it also went through a PL/C (dialect of PL/I) version around 1982. At that point the program and data were living on Hollerith cards. And I added a different front end for the Internet around 1997. That version is also still alive, but actually in more feeble condition than the back end running in DOS. I don't even have any admin capability on the server where the PERL/CGI runs, so around 2016 I wound up doing a separate version that can run the PERL locally. Most recent work with the system was actually a new statistical function using JavaScript. But for the last few years I've been thinking about porting the whole thing to Python...

    But my actual interest in the story was whether this explains the anomalous location and velocity data. I read about it in a book called "13 Things That Don't Make Sense". Can't find any current references to those anomalies.

    1. fogerty

      Re: Early 80's database still alive

      im working on openqm i have front ended it with a python IDE. openqm is essentially the PICK OPERATING SYSTEM (1965). Unbelievably that OS is still infastructure, eveywhere. Corporate. having moved (back) to it, from python, I was going to build it up using python. The power. Its not all cobol. its not all. Degraded systems. microsoft = 'the dark ages of tech'

    2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Early 80's database still alive

      Is it what came up in 2015 as - "Writing in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Nathan Schwadron of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and colleagues reanalyzed magnetic field data from Voyager 1 and found that the direction of the magnetic field has been slowly turning ever since the spacecraft crossed into interstellar space. They believe this is an effect of the nearby boundary of the solar wind, a stream of charged particles that comes from the sun.". Being, mystery solved (probably)?

    3. etudiant

      Re: Early 80's database still alive

      Iirc, the anomalous velocity and location data that puzzled the Voyager team was eventually found to be due to an unaccounted for imbalance in the heat radiation from the probes.

      See: https://www.space.com/16648-pioneer-anomaly-spacecraft-mystery-solved.html

  12. 45RPM Silver badge

    Well I recapped my Apple II recently - but I was able to get my hands on it and do it directly. It’s not like it was in the next county (let alone country, continent, planet…)

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Mmmm that gives me an idea - we have a few politicians that arent in the same heliosphere, perhaps NASA can fix them!

  13. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Oldest repairs?

    About a year ago I squirted some deoxit into the scratchy volume control of the tuner-amp I built in the mid 1970s, and still use. It's right in front of me now.

    A few months ago I repaired the signal generator that I built just before the tuner-amp - it had gone unstable due to a dried out tantalum cap. That's sitting on the kitchen workshop table.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "It's not yet known why the probe started sending telemetry to the wrong box,"

    I'm not saying it was aliens... but it was aliens. Somewhere out in the Interstellar region, a group of cockroach-like creatures huddled around a display give a collective cheer as Thwap pushes the single blue button on the Voyager control panel and returns to his scout craft. That should keep the earthlings busy for a while...

  15. Pirate Dave Silver badge

    Well, a couple of years ago, I added a shiny new digital VFD to my 1950's era SouthBend Heavy-10 lathe. Thing runs like a top now.

  16. Blackjack Silver badge

    I fixed a VHS player five years ago but that was 80s tech.

    And I once fixed an old black & white Tv but no clue how old it was.

    1. rosbiff

      Presumably you just thumped the TV on the side. That usually used to work.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Happy

        It's not thumping it that the skill - it's knowing where, and how hard.

  17. Tacoman

    Almost a day away

    14 billion miles - almost 24 'light-hours' away in time. And I thought cross-compiling and updating over serial was a hassle.

  18. fogerty

    article could have stated exactly how long it takes them to get a response to each command made

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Distance

      It's in there – Voyager 1 is about 20 light hours away, so it takes about 20 hours to get a signal.

      C.

      1. Coen Dijkgraaf

        Re: Distance

        > It's in there – Voyager 1 is about 20 light hours away, so it takes about 20 hours to get a signal.

        So double that to get a response to a command.

        1. GuldenNL

          Re: Distance

          Known as a turn in the voice self service (IVR) world. About the same time that an IVR took in 1977 to complete a turn.

  19. Kronosmen

    Good for another 110 years

    On my 1912 Model T Ford the spark was too weak on the Buzz ignition coil, I had to repace a capacitor,

    (we used to call them condensers back then).

    Good for another 110 years. I will let you know if it makes it that long. Ha

    1. Wexford

      Re: Good for another 110 years

      I'll set a calendar reminder so my brain-in-a-jar can come back to this page in 2132 and check in on your brain-in-a-jar's progress.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Good for another 110 years

        Friends Come in Boxes.

    2. Yes Me Silver badge

      Re: Good for another 110 years

      Was the condenser made of brass plates? I used to have a couple of beautiful brass variable condensers that came out of a pre-war (WW II, that is) radio, but alas no more, I left them at home when I went to university and they vanished without trace when my parents moved house.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Good for another 110 years

        I dropped in to see how my chicken/duck/quail shed commission was coming along and a unit next door caught my eye. There was a chap in their making capacitors from rolled up copper sheets and airgapped for the audiophiles.

        Wait till they hear about the problems caused by changes in air pressure/humidity: "yea I could hear the thunderstorm coming because the rise in humidity extended the bass range beautifully"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good for another 110 years

      The world will probably run out of petrol before then, or it will be banned.

  20. MrBanana Silver badge

    Vintage Hi-Fi

    Always a pleasure to work on vintage Hi-Fi gear. I was gifted a broken Quad 33/303 system (a long haul to the Isle of Mull to fetch it, but that's a different story). The 33 pre-amp rattled because one of the plastic cased electrolytic caps had literally exploded. A full rebuild of both units, new caps, metal oxide resistors, reconfiguring for PNP power transistors, etc yielded a very decent amplifier, better than new.

    Although originally "free" + the upgrade kits, it then started to get more expensive as I *had* to get the matching FM3 tuner, then another 303 for bi-amping a pair of modified Wharfedale speakers, then... I'll stop there before I think too much about it.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Vintage Hi-Fi

      I've got a 33/303 that plugs into the telly for proper listening to music - though for really proper listening to music I have to wait for the FM2 to warm up - something on Buxtehude on R3 a couple of days ago (he must have been mono) worked really well as it distorts the lower organ registers far better than any Bose crap!

  21. Mr. V. Meldrew

    Totally....

    Fantastic.....

    Such amazing dedication on an old bit of kit deserves a pat on the back for these white coated boffins.

    It amazes me every day.

  22. Old one

    Didn't Rodenberry write this 40 years ago?

    Seems to be Star Trek the Movie is coming true...

  23. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Another achievement for Voyager: the farther bug correction.

    That's incredible. Well done chaps.

    == Bring us Dabbsy back! ==

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Bugs in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaace!

  24. Robstech

    Hardware duplication

    I ended up supporting some very specialised equipment a couple of years ago that was based on hardware logic. It dated back from probably before PLCs were thought of. The documentation was very poor and incomplete and inaccurate. All based on CMOS 4000 logic and various obsolete analogue multipliers etc. Nightmare.

  25. mikecoppicegreen

    Does fixing the hydraulic clutch on my 1970 land rover count?

  26. Boy Quiet

    Have a Mullard 10W valve amp

    I have a Mullard 10W valve amplifier sitting in my garage that I built for my Duke of Edinburg project in the mid 1960’s Think the soldering may need ‘touching up’ now. Another project for when I ever get round to it. I’m 76 now so possibly an heirloom project for my grandchildren !

  27. Snapper

    1970's = Pah! Try 1870's!

    My target rifle was made in 1870, but I'll bet Voyager goes faster than my bullets!

  28. TaabuTheCat

    HP-16C

    Not quite the 70's (got it when they first came out so 82,83?) but the original batteries are still in it and it still works. Amazing.

  29. Jakester

    Not quite 70's tech, but I fire up a Radio Shack Model 100 laptop every once in awhile, just for grins. I bought it 20 years ago, just because it was very cheap and an interesting piece of computer history. I did have to clean the battery contacts when I got it.

  30. Scooby80

    I was recently working I the UCSD p-System always good fun :) first time I a few years!

  31. deanpoppe

    AACS Acronym definition incorrect?

    I believe you meant "Altitude and Articulation Control System", although there are those who would say there's a little "Attitude" in everything we do. :-)

    1. Excellentsword (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: AACS Acronym definition incorrect?

      No: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attitude_control

    2. John PM Chappell

      Re: AACS Acronym definition incorrect?

      There is not 'altitude' without a gorund reference. Altitude is a flight thing, this is a spacecraft. Attitude is what matters - I.E. Where is it pointing? This is also a thing planes worry about and have controls for. You may be confused because attitude, to a large degree, is how you change altitude, but the control surfaces actually change attitude. (V'Ger uses thrusters, because - space).

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have lots of old stuff I work on and use

    It is funny, I don't like things because they are old, I like them because the mindset for making and building back then are so different from today, and you can see that when you work on them.

    Old mechanically controlled devices from the 70s and earlier just amaze me in general compared to the current "build it from plastic and slap a computer on it to make it work right" methodology.

    I buy old mechanical woodworking gear (delta\beaver\rockwell) to fix, tune up and use.. The oldest I have in my wood shop is a bandsaw from 73 which you can actually still get most parts for new as they use nearly the same design for the modern made in China ones.

    Lots of old tube guitar amps that I bought cheap and fixed up going back to the 60's including a Fender 400 PS that could heat my house...and deafen the neighborhood if I dared turn the volume knob past 1..

    My main stereo is a Marantz from 74 I fixed up (mostly a good clean on that one) along with some other gear from the same era that need new capacitors every so often.

    There is an Eico tube amp from the early 50s that I had to replace some pots on if that counts. It sounds amazing.

    I've re-surrounded quite a few Advent Large Speakers from the mid 70's, in fact I have 4 sitting next to my LCD TV as the main sound system...I don't have a soundbar though.

    Early 70s corvette I've had forever that has a problem with melting off the rear tires when the accelerator is depressed rapidly.

    I don't have any 70's synthesizers to work on and play, but I really (really) wish I did...

    I've tuned up my other half's Singer and Babylock sewing machines from the 60s/70s and they will probably work for another 30-40 years now.

    Coleman camp stove from the 60s (maybe 50s) that needed a good clean. Two of their lanterns from the 70s that work great after a clean up as well.

    I put a new motor in our Coleman house furnance from 77, but we did end up changing it out for something more efficient a year later. The squirrel cage and motor is going into a sanding down draft table at some point.

  33. UncleDavid

    70s electronics

    This made me put batteries, with added aluminium foil to make them reach the contacts, in my Sinclair Cambridge Memory calculators (early 70's) and... nothing. No red LEDs lit up. This makes me sad.

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