On the 30th anniversary of Voyager 1's launch, the New Horizons mission salutes its predecessor on the path toward the solar system's planetary frontier - and beyond.
Destined for Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons is the first mission to an unexplored planet since Voyager 1 roared into space on Sept. 5, 1977. Voyager 2 launched 16 days earlier; together the Voyagers continue toward the edge of the solar system, returning information from distances more than three times farther away than Pluto.
"As compatriots in the historic first reconnaissance of unexplored planets, New Horizons salutes the awe- inspiring success of Voyager in opening up the middle zone of our solar system - the realm of the giant planets," says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of NASA Headquarters. "Now we carry the banner forward to open up the solar system's third zone, where Pluto, Charon and their kindred dwarf planets orbit. In the coming years, Voyager will continue to explore the fringes of the Sun's heliosphere and move into interstellar space, and New Horizons will cross the great gulf of the solar system to reach Pluto in 2015. Go Voyager, Go New Horizons!"
Voyager 1 is the farthest human-made object, now traveling about 15.5 billion kilometers (9.7 billion miles) from the Sun. Voyager 2 is about 12.5 billion kilometers (7.8 billion miles) from the Sun. "The Voyager mission provided both inspiration and confidence to the New Horizons team," says New Horizons Project Manager Glen Fountain, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. "It inspired us to develop the ideas that eventually led to the New Horizons mission to Pluto and confidence that a well-designed spacecraft could succeed in sending home the desired information after a long voyage."
Can New Horizons Catch Voyager 1?
In 2006 Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to reach a distance of 100 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun - that's 100 times farther from the Sun than the Earth is, equivalent to 15 billion kilometers or 9.3 billion miles.
Though New Horizons will also reach 100 AU, it will never pass Voyager 1, because Voyager was boosted by multiple gravity assists that make its speed faster than New Horizons will travel. Voyager 1 is escaping the solar system at 17 kilometers per second. When New Horizons reaches that same distance in 2038, propelled by a single planetary swingby, it will be moving about 13 kilometers per second.