Bon voyage ... to infinity
Even space scientists and aerospace engineers, who deal with the vastness of space as a practical matter, are awed by Voyager 1's exit from the solar system.
According to the satellite's management team, Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in August 2012 - an unprecedented achievement so extraordinary that it took a year to analyze the data and reach that definitive conclusion.
NASA launched the craft on Sept. 5, 1977 - just as "Star Wars" premiered on Earth - on a four-year mission to study the outer planets of the solar system. But mission planners knew that the craft's trajectory, if it survived, eventually would carry it outside the solar system. So, it carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc, just in case Voyager I comes across a civilization out there somewhere. It includes messages recorded in 55 languages, including from President Jimmy Carter and the contemporary secretary-general of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim. Recorded music on the disc ranges from Mozart to Chuck Berry singing "Johnny B. Goode."
The old craft carries old technology. It has an eight-track tape recorder and less computing power than your cellphone.
But in its way it carries the perpetual hope of humanity, as in President Carter's printed message in its cargo: "We cast this message into the cosmos ... We are trying to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope some day, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of Galactic Civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe."
Vast and awesome indeed. Voyager 1 is nearly 12 billion miles away, about 125 times the distance from Earth to the sun, traveling away at about 38,400 miles an hour. It's radio signal, at the speed of light, takes more than 17 hours to reach Earth. It might reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star to our own sun ... in 40,000 years.