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I am now in the third week of my annual February birthday fund-raising drive. The first two weeks were good, but not record-setting.

 

There are still two weeks left in this campaign however. If you have been a regular reader and a fan of my work and have not yet donated or subscribed, please consider doing so. I take no ads, I keep the website clean from pop-ups and annoying demands (most of the time). Thus, I depend entirely on my readers to support me. Though this means I am sacrificing some income, it also means that I remain entirely independent from outside pressure. By depending solely on donations and subscriptions from my readers, no one can threaten me with censorship. You don't like what I write, you can simply go elsewhere.

 

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Voyager-1 has computer issues

According to the Voyager-1 science team, the probe has developed a problem with one of its three onboard computers, called the flight data system (FDS), that is preventing it from sending back useable data.

Among other things, the FDS is designed to collect data from the science instruments as well as engineering data about the health and status of the spacecraft. It then combines that information into a single data “package” to be sent back to Earth by the TMU. The data is in the form of ones and zeros, or binary code. Varying combinations of the two numbers are the basis of all computer language.

Recently, the TMU began transmitting a repeating pattern of ones and zeros as if it were “stuck.” After ruling out other possibilities, the Voyager team determined that the source of the issue is the FDS. This past weekend the team tried to restart the FDS and return it to the state it was in before the issue began, but the spacecraft still isn’t returning useable data.

Engineers are trouble-shooting the problem, and expect it will take several weeks at best to identify and then fix the issue. The 22-hour travel time for communications to reach the spacecraft, now beyond the edge of the solar system more than 15 billion miles away, means that it will at minimum take about two days to find out if a transmitted fix works.

As the spacecraft was launched in 1977, most of the engineers now working on it were not even born then, and must deal with a technology that was designed before personal computers, no less smart phones, even existed. Like the entire 1960s space race, the two Voyager craft now beyond the solar system were built by engineers using slide rules.

Voyager-2 also had problems in August that engineers were able to fix, so the prognosis here is not bad.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

5 comments

  • David M. Cook

    This is where both NASA and JPL have dropped the ball. They should have launched a Voyager-type mission every decade! Think of how much better each new generation of probe would be, and the lessons we could learn from the old probes. This NASA practice of “one-and-done” isn‘t doing us any favors. Same with Hubble. Imagine 6 or 8 telescopes in orbit, each better than the last. Once you build the prototype, the production models should be much cheaper.

  • tom

    Voyager 1 and Voyager II, hosting the two oldest continuously operating computers man has ever made, will run out of their plutonium generated electricity sometime in 2025. What a remarkable achievement it was to get these two magnificent collections of spare parts, hopes and dreams built and launched and on a shoestring budget. That they’ve inspired generations of the world’s children to become astronomers, scientists and engineers is a given. Mission Accomplished was reached years ago. It’s been all icing on the cake since then. God speed, V’ger.

  • wayne

    David M. Cook–
    Yes, totally like the every-decade, thing’.

    Tangentially related

    “Prepping the Perseverance Power Source”
    Idaho National Lab (June 2020)
    https://youtu.be/K79IwXzGBKk
    2:54

  • Rob Crawford

    I believe the Voyager computers have the longest uninterrupted uptime of any computer. An impressive feat.

  • pzatchok

    They are not running Microsoft. So of course they are solid and running fine.

    All kidding aside I love these craft. Simple (for now) and robust (for then). They do their job and nothing more.
    Any extra science out of them comes from Earth observations and new interpretations of their data.

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