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Voyager Turned Off?

Among the many great achievements of humankind is the Voyager mission. Two probes were launched in 1977 to study the outer solar system, and they did so phenomenally well, giving us dazzling glimpses of the gas giants and their many desert moons. Now the two probes are zooming toward interstellar space. One is 11 billion miles from Earth, the other is 14 billion. They still work. They still send back data about the composition of the outer solar system. But according to a report in Nature, NASA bean-counters are looking for old spacecraft to shut down, and have preliminarily recommended a termination of the Voyagers. The probes will still be doing their job, but we'll stop listening. When Voyager phones home, we won't pick up.

The two probes currently cost about $4.2 million a year. (For that amount we could build an entire interstate highway exit ramp!) My guess is that the Voyagers will find some way to survive the budget-cutting process in the same ingenious way they've survived all those billions of miles of interplanetary space.

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 14, 2005; 6:49 AM ET
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