The Voyager Generation


Voyager 2 launched on August 20th, 1977. Voayger one followed on September 5th, 1977.

In between that, I was born. So I’ve always sort had a fondness for these missions that I grew up with. As I did, the Voyager missions are 40 and though largely finished with their mission of exploring the outer planets, they continue to send data back about leaving the solar system. I’m not sure I can trace my path to science to following these missions. I’m not sure when I became aware they launched near by birthday (probably as an adult), but I was certainly always aware of them.

The two probes will lose power in a few years, and then be signs of humanity out in the universe with their golden records carrying images and sounds from Earth. They are also near the beginning of missions with cameras creating visuals that inspire wonder and awe. The New Horizons mission Alex Parker described such a moment on Twitter, comparing it to the Aug 21 eclipse.

One of many iconic Voyager images, the “Pale Blue Dot”. That tiny blue pixel i the right-hand beam of light is Earth, as shot from around the orbit of Neptune. Credit: Public Domain Image

In the United States I am one of roughly 136,700 people born in the two week window between the launches (calculating from the number of recorded births in the US in 1977). Worldwide, obviously, the number is much larger.

This is me with my cousin who was also a member of The Voyager Generation. Photo credit: Ian Street, taken August 25,2017.

Being part of The Voyager Generation isn’t defining of a particular characteristic of a group, except in time. Late summer, 1977, was just before the technology revolution that resulted in the computer I’m writing this on now (amongst many others).  I’ve often felt I fell in between two defined generations (as arbitrary as they are). Not Quite Gen X, but not millenial either. Voyagers 1 and 2 have been out there, progressing away from Earth, pushing how far humans have explored a bit further with each minute.

Are you a member of The Voyager Generation? Or is there a mission to space or scientific exploration you have a kinship with because it started around the time you were born?

To learn more about Voyager mission and the story behind it, I recommend PBS’ documentary The Farthest. Voyager expanded humanity’s perspective of just how much detail is out there to find and it’s an incredible story.

Addendum 9/15: One of the legacies of the Voyager missions was it giving rise to other missions to the planets. Cassini ended it’s mission today with engineers flying it into the atmosphere of Saturn to burn up. Katie Mack had  a wonderful thread on Twitter (as did many others (#CassiniFinale, #Cassini):

We went to Saturn again with Cassini in no small part thanks to Voyager. Science builds on itself and inspires new explorations and questions. Voyager and Cassini are examples of that.

Aug 28: This post has been updated.

Sept 3: This post has been updated.



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