The Little Space Probe that Could
Sep 16, 2013 1973
Last week, on 12 September 2013, NASA announced that Voyager 1 had exited the solar system and had gone where no man-made object has ever gone before. This is a breathtaking achievement that no one expected.
Voyager 1 was launched in 1977. In 1977 I was just starting high school. Although originally it had been intended as an exploration of the outer planets, financial constraints meant that the scope of this Voyager mission was cut back to do a fly-by of Jupiter and Saturn. That’s as much as the scientists could have hoped for given the budget cuts.
A space mission, and especially one like this, is always risky. In 1979 Voyager encountered Jupiter and its moons. In 1980, it flew past Saturn. And then it just kept going…. and going… So far, Voyager has travelled 11.7 billion miles, over a period of over 36 years. It is travelling at 38,110 miles per hour.
Having left the solar system, Voyager 1 continues travelling in interstellar space. In about 40,000 years it will pass within 1.6 light years of the star Gliese 445 in the constellation Camelopardalis. I wonder if the Lord will let it continue to hurtle through space – just for fun – after he renews all things on this earth?
For now, Voyager 1’s instruments continue to send back data. It carries photos of earth and its life forms, scientific information, spoken greetings from various important people from 1977, and a medley called “Sounds of Earth” that includes the sounds of whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and a collection of music, including works by Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, and Chuck Berry.
And here’s the really incredible thing. It is 1970’s technology. Obviously they made things to last back then. Voyager 1 has 1/240,000 of the memory of a low-end mobile phone today. It has a 23-watt transmitter, which is equivalent of a refrigerator bulb. Think about that next time when you open your refrigerator door and can’t find that last piece of chocolate!
It’s amazing achievement by Voyager 1. I don’t know about you, but as for me, left to my own devices, I typically underperform. But I have this promise that I hold on to:
Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen. – Eph. 3:20–21.
Sometimes when I consider my weaknesses, my power seems less than the 23-watt transmitter. And my memory is not all that great either! But there is another power in me – a power that is at work in everyone who believes. It is the power the spirit of the risen Christ, given to us through the Holy Spirit that he has poured out lives.
For this reason, God is able to do in our lives far beyond anything that we could ask or imagine. Our journey has not ended; in Christ we have been given the depths of love and the heights of heavenly places. Our technology is not the best, what with our sinful human nature, and our pasts sunken in sin, and our sins of today. But the Gospel tells us that Christ has changed everything at Calvary. And so now we can all hold on that promise of Ephesians 3:20–21.
I wish Voyager 1 well. I’m proud of the little guy (or girl) – all 721.9 kg of it! It is the man-made object that has made it furthest from earth, and still going. It has certainly achieved far beyond what people could ever have dreamed.
Given who I am and where I’ve come from, you could never have imagined it. But in Christ I intend to surpass all human expectations, and all human limitations, so that the glory will be to our God through Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.