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Space Exploration

Vikings and Voyagers

Probably two of the most famous spacecraft are the Voyager probes that are now leaving the Solar System. Did you know that even today we are still receiving transmissions from millions of miles away from Earth? While there will be great missions in the future, these two missions set the stage for a great history of unmanned exploration of our Solar System. The Viking orbiting spacecraft and lander were also cutting edge by being the first U.S. landers on Mars. The USSR's Mars 3 was the first lander on Mars, but only transmitted for a few seconds.

The Viking Series

The Viking probes went to our closest neighbor as opposed to leaving the system. The Vikings went to Mars and actually landed. They made scientific observations and took soil/atmospheric samples. While the landers took images of the surface, the orbiters mapped the planet in preparation for future missions. Even though they landed in 1976, they sent back data that scientists are using in their plans to build a small colony on Mars in 2030.

Twin Voyagers

Launched in 1977, Voyagers I and II were sent to complete a quick examination of planets in the Solar System and then continue their journey into interstellar space. They were the only spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune but also sent back detailed images of Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons. Discoveries made by the Voyager spacecraft were used to develop mission plans for Galileo's mission to Jupiter and the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. The Voyager spacecraft get their power from the radioactive decay of a plutonium fuel source so that they could run for several decades.

Voyagers Still Working

As of 2006, both spacecraft are heading towards the edges of our Solar System. In 2004, Voyager I passed the termination shock and reached the the heliopause in 2012. Voyager II is a little bit slower and will reach the heliopause in about 2019. They continue to send back information on magnetic fields, low energy charged particles, cosmic rays, and plasma waves. Their cameras were turned off many years ago. More instruments will be turned off in order to conserve power.

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