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Voyager 1 Fires Up Thrusters After 37 Years

Voyager 1 Fires Up Thrusters After 37 Years

As humanity's first visitor to interstellar space, NASA's Voyager 1 has revealed itself to be a trooper, answering commands that take nearly 20 hours to arrive, and performing routine tasks and transmitting data back (another 20-hour one-way call) to the home planet.

Nasa's Voyager 1 spacecraft-cruising interstellar space billions of miles from earth - was back on the right track on Friday thanks to thrusters that were fired up for the first time in 37 years.

Ever since Voyager 1-NASA's farthest spacecraft- was launched, it has relied on its primary thrusters, called "attitude control thrusters".

Instead of continuing to use the attitude control thrusters, they wanted to try to turn on the spacecraft's trajectory correction maneuver thrusters, which hadn't been used for almost 40 years.

The spacecraft - now over 141 times the distance between the earth and the sun - is expected to go dark some time in the next five years as the remaining energy is depleted.

By switching to the spacecraft's "trajectory correction maneuver" thrusters, last used during the spacecraft's encounter with Saturn in 1980, engineers say they will be able to extend the lifetime of Voyager by two or three more years before its waning power reserves expire.

The engineers fired up the thrusters on Tuesday and tested their ability to turn Voyager using 10-millisecond pulses.

Aerojet Rocketdyne developed all of the Voyager's thrusters.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", said Chris Jones, chief engineer at JPL. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA's Deep Space Network.

"The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all", said Todd Barber.

Now that the four thrusters have proved to be operable, the Voyager 1 will have a longer mission. The mission celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, but it's not just a lump of metal floating through interstellar space: that baby still runs.

The probe began its epic journey on September 5, 1977, sending us back a wealth of information, including some stunning photos of Saturn and Jupiter and their many moons.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both.

NASA added it will likely do a similar test on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the twin spacecraft of Voyager 1.

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