Vaya Con Dios, or Vaya Con Voyager?


Chuck Berry died this saturday, but the dream of space exploration has found new life.

The musical obituary list, contained within the databank of Voyager 1, is finally complete.

The last original composer on board of the spacecraft, Chuck Berry, died on march 16th 2017, at the age of 90.

In 1977, when Voyager was launched at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a hard drive containing a sample of Earths most popular music was attached to it. Among classics such “Dark was the night” by Blind Willie Johnson and Beethovens “Fifth Symphony”, was also a copy of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny Be Good, traveling with 17 kilometers per second through the cosmos.

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson (director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City) twitted on the death of the Rock and Roll Legend ,saying :“ Chuck Berry (1926-2017) left Earth long ago: His music, part of Voyager’s Golden Records, sent to the depths of space in 1977.“

In 1987, the late Carl Sagan wrote a letter to Chuck Berry, congratulating him to his 60th birthday. „Dear Chuck Berry, when they tell you your music will live forever, you can usually be sure they’re exaggerating. But Johnny Be Good is on the Voyager Interstellar records, attached to Nasa’s Voyager spacecraft – now two billion miles away from earth and bound to the stars. These records will last for a blillion years or so.“

That was 30 years ago. Now, in 2017, Voyager 1 is about 18 billion kilometers away from earth and heading for a rendezvous with AC+79 3888. A star in the constellation of Camelopardalis. In about 40.000 years from now it will arrive safely, 1.6 light years away from that star, and assume a position in space, orbiting the center of the galaxy.

By that time, Voyager’s batteries will be completely depleted. This is going to happen actually within a decade from now. That leaves Voyager only a couple of years to transmit its data of uncharted territory before it will simply drift throughout the vast space between the stars.

Fun fact. Since Chuck Berry’s hit single “Johnny Be Goode” was first transmitted by radio waves in 1958, signals from that transmission have already reached Voyager 1’s destination almost 20 years before it was even launched. Since radio waves travel with the speed of light, they must have arrived a year and a half later.

So if there is an alien race in the constellation of Camelopardis, capable of receiving radio signals, they might be already rocking to “Johnny be goode”, or maybe it was mistaken for an act of war, and they are now on their way to vaporize our planet.

Despite this years 40th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1, and its twin Voyager 2, 2017 is the beginning of a dark age for American space exploration and science as a whole.

Though the illusion of a proud nation, exploring the space ways, was only perpetuated by the fear of Russian military and scientific superiority, it was this spirit which made the golden age of American space exploration possible.

The cold war might have ignited the engine which brought humans to the moon, but it was the dream of that generation and those to come which not only launched the Voyager into regions where no man has gone before, but all the other ambitious projects in human space mission history.

This era was about to come to an end , when we look at the alarming cuts Nasa received under the Obama administration.

In 2016 the Obama Administration has announced its new Federal budget and is proposed to cut NASA’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget to $19 billion by carving away significant funding for deep space exploration, whereas the overall US Federal budget was actually on the rise, reaching over $4.1 trillion.

This would have killed the US’s new found ambition under the Bush administration to send the first human beings to Mars. “”The desire to explore and understand is part of our character” said former US president in 2004. Mirroring the famous speech by John F. Kennedy from 1962, when he declared his plans of sending the first men to the moon.

Despite the hiatus during the Obama era, the new government seems to be in favor for Nasa’s plans when it comes to robotic and human space travel. On March 7, 2017, Congress passed a NASA authorization bill for the first time in nearly six years.

Although cuts in science as a whole have increased under the Trump administration, and especially climate science and health have to suffer from these allocations in the budget, Trumps’s plans preserve the Mars mission and other enterprises in outer space.

Planetary science and space exploration stands to get $1.9 billion, which is significantly higher than 2017 Obama and congressional levels.

“Today’s approval of the NASA Transition Authorization Act by Congress sends a clear message to the American people and our international partners that our nation remains committed to NASA’s space exploration program.” said Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition of Deep Space Exploration.

The American space agency is not the only game in town when it comes to the expansion of human reach to the far regions of space. The European “ESA” or the “China National Space Administration” are also big players when it comes to create sophisticated technologies and discoveries in the race for the stars.

But (without undermining the achievements of other space faring nations) there is something special about Nasa and its potential to spark the human imagination.

“Space is a $300 billion industry worldwide. NASA is a tiny percent of that. (But) that little bit is what inspires dreams.” Neil de Grasse Tyson.


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