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Communication Crisis: NASA Receives Unintelligible Messages From 15 Billion Miles Away

Voyager Spacecraft Sends Incoherent Messages Back to Earth
Source: NASA

The Voyager I spacecraft is sending back incoherent messages.

Mar. 12 2024, Published 9:02 a.m. ET

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Concerns escalated among NASA experts about a significant setback in space exploration after the Voyager I spacecraft encountered communication issues, transmitting perplexing messages back to Earth.

NASA recently disclosed that efforts were underway to address malfunctions in the spacecraft's onboard computers, which have disrupted communication with one of its subsystems, rendering it incapable of relaying scientific or engineering data back to Earth.

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In a recent interview with NPR, Suzanne Dodd from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory expressed growing apprehension, stating, "It basically stopped talking to us in a coherent manner," emphasizing the severity of the issue.

Instead of transmitting understandable information encoded in binary, Voyager I is transmitting a sequence of alternating zeros and ones, defying attempts by Dodd's team to rectify the problem.

The foremost challenge in resolving Voyager's issues lies in its staggering distance of 15 billion miles from Earth, with commands taking 22.5 hours to reach the probe. Consequently, scientists face a daunting two-day turnaround time for any troubleshooting efforts.

Traditionally, the flight data system aggregates data from all onboard instruments, transmitting it to Earth in binary format for deciphering upon arrival.

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Over the past four and a half decades, this system has proven remarkably effective. Voyager has provided breathtaking images of Jupiter and Saturn, while its counterpart, Voyager II, captured groundbreaking images of Neptune.

Exploiting a rare alignment of the outer planets occurring once every 175 years, Voyager embarked on a journey to explore all four, opting to investigate Saturn's moon, Titan, due to its scientifically intriguing atmosphere, rather than Pluto.

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In a remarkable feat, Voyager turned its camera towards Earth in 1990, capturing the iconic "Pale Blue Dot" photograph, a cornerstone of NASA's history.

Notably, Voyager's technology pales in comparison to modern standards, with Dodd highlighting that a standard car fob possesses more computational power than the spacecraft.

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While communication with Voyager remains possible, failure to reset its "science packages" feature could relegate it to a mere celestial artifact drifting aimlessly through space.

Launched in 1977 with the initial mission of exploring Jupiter, Saturn and their moons, Voyager I fulfilled its primary objectives by 1980 before venturing into the outer reaches of the solar system.

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