Voyager 1 has left the solar system. Now let’s hope it doesn’t come back marked “Return to Sender.”
As my colleague Monte Morin reported Thursday:
After 36 years of space travel and months of heated debate among scientists, NASA confirmed Thursday that Voyager 1 has indeed left our solar system and had entered interstellar space more than a year ago.
“Voyager has boldly gone where no probe has gone before, marking one of the most significant technological achievements in the annals of the history of science,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.
Yeah, sure, great. Don’t these NASA guys ever go to the movies?
That “boldly gone where no probe has gone before” line is straight out of “Star Trek,” of course. But here’s hoping that Grunsfeld and his fellow rocket scientists aren’t about to give us a real-life version of the show.
Go back a long time ago to a galaxy far, far away: Earth, 1979, when “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” debuted (think Iran hostage crisis, President Carter, funky clothes and bad haircuts). The plot centered around our old favorites from the TV show battling a deadly something that is headed toward Earth, destroying everything in its path. Captain Kirk and the lads and ladies of the Enterprise are dispatched, again, to save the universe. (Yes, sadly, they all looked too old for the job, except for Spock, naturally.)
What they discover is something called V’Ger. Seems that an alien machine race has discovered an old Earth probe, retooled it, it’s come alive and, well, it’s coming home seeking its creator. The probe’s original name? Voyager 6 (which isn’t real; NASA only made two).
This being Hollywood, all’s well that ends well (except for a few unfortunate crew members). But will we be able to say the same of the actual Voyager 1 and its sister ship, Voyager 2?
Recall that those Voyagers have gold records on them, courtesy of Carl Sagan and other bright minds who thought that, in addition to being scientific probes, the spacecraft could be interstellar greeting cards.
So like a bottle with a message inside, Voyager 1 is floating out there in space, just waiting for some alien boy or girl to come upon it and say, “Look what I found, Gork!” On the record are greetings in various Earth languages, Earth sounds, Earth music (oh no, disco!) and the like. Oh, and a map, in case the aliens need help finding the dopes who made the record. (Yes, they even included a stylus, on the off chance that aliens millions of years more advanced than us have thrown away all of their old record players.)
Sagan was probably hoping for contact with benign aliens who would come to Earth, bring us their great knowledge and put an end to poverty, hunger, pollution, disease and the Ford Pinto and Chevy Vega.
Now, of course, we know better. Movies such as “Battleship,” “Independence Day,” “Alien,” “Predator” and many others remind us that those aliens we’re inviting over might be less interested in peace than in having a piece of us for breakfast.
So while I’m applauding plucky little Voyager and the folks who sent it on its way, I’m also making a little wish upon a star:
Live long and prosper, Voyager. Just do it quietly, please.
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