The Voyager 1 Probe, first launched in 1977, has become the first man-made object to leave the solar system. Sensors indicate that the Voyager probe has left the bubble of space within direct reach of the Sun, meaning that the probe has officially left the solar system.

Voyager Probe

Voyager probe distance from Earth

The Voyager probe is over 12 billion miles from earth and radio signals from the craft now take a full 17 hours to reach the planet. Space experts and enthusiasts mark this occasion as being on par with sending the first space crafts into orbit and landing on the moon. Instruments on the probe are still functioning and sending back information on the local environment, meaning that the probe is still able to provide valuable insights about the nature of interstellar space.

Before leaving the solar system, the Voyager 1 probe was used to measure outlying planets and celestial bodies in the solar system. The program was launched in 1977. Two probes were sent out during the Voyager program, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Both measured the gas giants, such as Jupiter and Saturn, on the outskirts of the solar system. Interestingly, the two probes contain gold disks with greetings and information regarding Earth, in case they are ever found by other intelligent life forms.

Voyager probe accomplishment

Projects such as the Voyager accomplished more than exploring the far reaches of our solar system. They also offered proof of American technological might, and helped lead to the development of modern telecommunications and navigation technology, which relies heavily on satellites. From predicting weather, to helping plot global flights and running GPS systems, satellites and space technology are now an intricate part of the modern global economy.

The times have certainly changed for NASA since the Voyager probe was designed and launched. Back in the 1960’s, NASA was awash with funding as the United States was locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union and trying to lay its claim to outer space. Government support for space programs was high, and the agency was considered among the most important government programs. Now, some leaders of the government view NASA as a largely unneeded expense.

NASA facing cutbacks

By the time the Voyager probes were launched in 1977, NASA was facing cutbacks to its largest projects. In fact, the Voyager program is actually a scaled down version of the planned “Grand Tour”, which would have sent out a far larger number of probes to various parts of the solar system. While NASA was then facing cuts to its most ambitious projects, the agency is now facing cuts that could be so deep to the bone that they could curtain the agency’s most fundamental operations.

Many NASA programs have been put on the chopping block as the United States Congress has looked for ways to cut swelling deficits and eventually reduce national debt. President Obama, who generally supports government spending, even went as far as proposing to cut NASA’s budget, though his cuts accounted for only 59 million dollars of the 17.7 billion dollars allocated in 2011.

Funding for NASA in 2014 is still being negotiated, but so far it looks like the space agency could have hundreds of millions of dollars cut from its budget.

Such cuts could curtain fundamental research and development, and will almost certainly force the agency to reduce the scope of its missions to explore the solar system. In the long run, this might reduce American supremacy in space, especially as other countries such as China ramp up their space programs.