This Week in Space

May 10th 2024

This Week in Space 110

Voyager 1's Brush with Silence

Hosted by Rod Pyle, Tariq Malik

Saving an Icon With Project Scientist Dr. Linda Spilker

New episodes posted every Friday.
Category: News

The Voyager probes have been transiting space since 1977, and they're still at it 46 years later. But late in 2023, Voyager 1, now 15 billion miles distant, started sending what the flight controllers called "gibberish" back to Earth---uncoordinated ones and zeros and a heartbeat tone. They knew it was still alive, but something had gone wrong. The small team of software wizards at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory got to work and came up with a workaround... but due to the age of the program, did not have an old enough computer on the ground to test it! They'd have to eyeball the sequence and send it to overwrite existing programming on the spacecraft. The round-trip radio signal from Earth takes 45 hours... and it was a nail-biter. Join us as we discuss this rescue beyond the solar system with Voyager Mission Scientist Dr. Linda Spilker.


  • Boeing Starliner launch delayed again due to a "buzzing" valve on the Atlas V rocket, not related to the spacecraft itself
  • James Webb Space Telescope detects weather patterns on an exoplanet 41 light-years away, revealing a regenerating atmosphere on a puffy, molten world
  • Elon Musk shares his thoughts on the lack of evidence for alien visitation, citing SpaceX's 6,000 satellites that have never had to maneuver around a UFO


  • A listener appreciates the discussion on how music relates to space exploration, but points out a missed opportunity to mention Ronald McNair's planned saxophone performance in space, which was tragically halted by the Challenger disaster.

Main Topic - Saving Voyager 1 with Dr. Linda Spilker:

  • Dr. Spilker's career at JPL, starting in 1977 and working on the Voyager mission, Cassini, and returning to Voyager as Project Scientist
  • Voyager's small flight team and science team, many of whom have been with the mission since its inception
  • The spacecraft's journey beyond the heliopause and into interstellar space, making unprecedented measurements of the interstellar medium
  • The ambitious Grand Tour of the outer solar system, visiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, and the remarkable discoveries made at each planet and their moons
  • The recent challenges faced by Voyager 1, including a failed chip and the efforts to restore its function from Earth
  • The limited computing power and memory of the Voyagers compared to modern spacecraft and the ingenuity required to program and communicate with them
  • Pressure Front 2, a mysterious feature in the interstellar medium that Voyager 1 was monitoring before its recent glitch
  • The expected lifespan of the Voyager probes and the need to start shutting down instruments as power decreases in the coming years
  • Dr. Spilker's personal highlights from the mission, including the beauty of Saturn's rings, the geysers on Neptune's moon Triton, and hints of Saturn's moon Enceladus feeding the planet's E-ring
  • Wishes for future exploration of the outer solar system, focusing on the ice giants Uranus and Neptune, Pluto, and other small worlds with rings

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