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Casey DreierSeptember 7, 2012

The Planetary Society Celebrates 35 Years of Voyager

I grew up with the Voyager spacecraft. When I was young (in the eighties) they were NASA, never mind that Space Shuttle stuff. The pictures of Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune are so embedded into our minds that we forget that only a few spacecraft have taken them. They defined the Solar System to all of us and paved the way for the more advanced missions that followed them.

We take it for granted that they're out there working still, but we forget how technologically advanced those machines were at the time. Voyager 2 had a lot of problems when it first launched. The team had to work hard to iron out the technical challenges and make it the smooth-sailing mission it is today. The incredible success was not guaranteed.

Time goes by. One day, we look up and happen to notice that Voyager 1 & 2 launched thirty-five years ago. Thirty-five!

So, despite just wrapping up Planetfest 2012 and in the midst of the presidential campaign season, Labor day holiday, and the hot August weather in Pasadena, we at the Planetary Society figured that we just had to do something to recognize this.

We partnered with our good friends at Southern California Public Radio, KPCC, and held our event at the Crawford Family Forum. It's a great space, intimate, but still holds about 150 people. The event was streamed and we will post the video here once its available.

The Planetary Society's own Mat Kaplan hosted the evening, starting out with a video of our CEO, Bill Nye, welcoming the crowd. He gave a nice overview of the mission, and re-iterated again that the Voyager spacecraft have been in space, functioning, for thirty-five years. It's really stunning, when you think about it. No other mission has lasted longer. The science returns have been enormous.

Dr. Ed Stone, Voyager Project Scientist joined Mat onstage and walked us through his personal recollections of the mission as well as some of his favorite images over the years. We saw many classic ones, including the volcanoes on Jupiter's moons Io and Europa. Again, pictures we take for granted now but only existed once Voyager few by Jupiter in 1979 (the Pioneer spacecraft flew by earlier but had very primitive cameras).

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Next, we had Emily Lakdawalla, the Senior Editor for the Planetary Society website and a self-described Planetary Evangelist (which is a very accurate self-description, I might add). She talked us through how Voyager's data is still relevant today. There is a thriving community of amateur image processors around the world who are working to discover hidden gems in the over 76,000 images returned by the Voyager spacecraft. She debuted a gorgeous new high-resolution image of Jupiter created by Björn Jónsson created for the anniversary event.

Robert Picardo, friend of the Planetary Society and famous for his role as The Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager, joined us on stage to read a selection from Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. The projected image of Earth as taken by Voyager 1 from beyond Neptune's orbit was projected behind him. The crowd was silent as chills ran down our spine. For all of our celebration about Voyager, it was important to be reminded that this mission also told us a lot about ourselves, not just the other planets.

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The co-producer of Cosmos and wife of the late Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, joined us by video to share her thoughts on the meaning of the mission and its unique message to interstellar space, the Golden Record. She worked on the team that produced the record, and fell in love with Carl Sagan during that process. It was a very special message from an eloquent and powerful speaker.

Mat Kaplan brought the Emeritus Executive Director of the Planetary Society, Lou Friedman, to the stage, and spoke about the challenges of getting missions off the ground, and the long history between the Planetary Society and the Voyager mission. In fact, our very first Planetfest was for the 1979 Jupiter encounter, before the paperwork to form the Society had been processed.

We took questions from the audiene, including many people who had been associated with the Voyager mission at one time or another. We had a great crowd, great speakers, and a great energy in the room. It was hard to cut it off, there are so many interesting things to talk about.

One thing I left the night with is that people love Voyager. It's a mission that has been successful beyond anyone's dreams. It's still producing data and performing science. But missions like this don't just happen. It takes determined public support and engagement to make sure that the small amount of funds necessary to enable missions like this exist. It made me proud to be a member of the Planetary Society last night. We have so much potential in space, we just have to make it happen.

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The Planetary Society wants to thank our friends at KPCC's Crawford Family Forum for their help in producing the event. They handled a lot of the logistics, and we could not have done it without them.

We also want to thank every one of our members and non-members who joined us that night. Thank you for coming out! It was great to see each and every one of you.

Watch the full video of the event here.

Pictures from the event are also available on Flickr.

Read more: Voyager 1 and 2, events and announcements, explaining science, Planetary Society

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Casey Dreier

Chief Advocate & Senior Space Policy Adviser for The Planetary Society
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