Four decades ago, in an age when the stars seemed the limit for human exploration, America vaulted two satellites toward the edges of our solar system. Now, as Voyager 1 and 2 continue onward, NASA is marking the legacy of these pioneering probes with a contest to send your own birthday message to one of them in space.
NASA is soliciting messages through social media, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr. Each message must be limited to 60 characters and marked with the hashtag #MessageToVoyager, according to a NASA press release. Inspiring words for the satellite can be entered into the contest until August 15, after which scientists will pick their ten favorites to put up for a public vote, reports Suzanne Ciechalski of Mashable. The winning message will be beamed out toward Voyager 1 on September 5, the 40th anniversary of the probe's launch.
The contest was inspired by the famous Golden Record carried by the Voyager probes. Designed by a team of scientists and communicators who were led by legendary astronomer Carl Sagan, the discs aimed to serve as a guide to Earth and humanity for any extraterrestrial life that may one day encounter the satellites on their long journeys. It contains much information, including 115 images from Earth; natural sounds like birds, whales, and thunder; music from many cultures and eras (Bach, Beethoven, Chuck Berry and more); spoken greetings in 55 languages; and written messages from then-President Jimmy Carter and U.N. General Secretary Kurt Waldheim. (You can listen to the Golden Record on Soundcloud, and even order your own copy of it along with a commemorative book).
"The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet," Sagan said of the records in a 1977 statement.
Since then, the Voyager spacecraft have hurtled past the outer planets of our Solar System, taking stunning photos of the gas giants along the way. Voyager 1 is now zipping along at 38,000 miles per hour nearly 13 billion miles from Earth. Voyager 2 is tagging along just behind some 2.5 billion miles back.
Whether Voyager 1 has truly breached the borders of our solar system remains a contentious issue among some researchers, but most agree that the probe is now flying through "interstellar space." According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Voyager 2 is currently in the so-called "heliosheath." Beyond this point, the Sun's solar wind no longer flows, marking the start of the "interstellar medium" that separates the stars of the galaxy.
Both spacecraft are still communicating with Earth. Voyager 1's reactor is expected to last until around 2025. In the meantime, send those messages of inspiration, hope and thanks to this little craft that could.