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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Voyager 1, first craft in interstellar space, may have gone dark

By Orlando Mayorquin New York Times

When Voyager 1 launched in 1977, scientists hoped it could do what it was built to do and take up-close images of Jupiter and Saturn. It did that – and much more.

Voyager 1 discovered active volcanoes, moons and planetary rings, proving along the way that Earth and all of humanity could be squished into a single pixel in a photograph, a “pale blue dot,” as astronomer Carl Sagan called it. It stretched a four-year mission into the present day, embarking on the deepest journey ever into space.

Now, it may have bid its final farewell to that faraway dot.

Voyager 1, the farthest human-made object in space, hasn’t sent coherent data to Earth since November. NASA has been trying to diagnose what the Voyager mission’s project manager, Suzanne Dodd, called the “most serious issue” the robotic probe has faced since she took the job in 2010.

The spacecraft encountered a glitch in one of its computers that has eliminated its ability to send engineering and science data back to Earth.

Voyager 1 is one half of the Voyager mission. It has a twin spacecraft, Voyager 2.

Launched in 1977, they were primarily built for a four-year trip to Jupiter and Saturn.

The 1980s flybys yielded new insights about the so-called great red spot on Jupiter, the rings around Saturn and the many moons of each planet.

Voyager 2 also explored Uranus and Neptune, becoming in 1989 the only spacecraft to explore all four outer planets.

Voyager 1, meanwhile, had set a course for deep space, using its camera to photograph the planets it was leaving behind along the way. Voyager 2 would later begin its own trek into deep space.

Before it went offline, Voyager 1 had been studying an anomalous disturbance in the magnetic field and plasma particles in interstellar space.

“Nothing else is getting launched to go out there,” Dodd said. “So that’s why we’re spending the time and being careful about trying to recover this spacecraft – because the science is so valuable.”

Recovery means getting under the hood of a spacecraft more than 15 billion miles away, equipped with the technology of yesteryear. It takes 45 hours to exchange information with the craft.

Voyager 2 is still operational. NASA had already estimated that the nuclear-powered generators of both spacecrafts would likely die around 2025.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.