Long before our billionaires began sending private rockets into space, the Congressional hearings into UFOs, or NASA was considering beaming nudes into space to attract aliens, we had the Voyager probes.
Designed to hit the highlights of our own solar system and take pictures like tourists, these craft are still hurtling through the universe. And are the furthest away from Earth any objects ever made by humans have gone. And at least one of them is acting really weird in a way that baffles the smartest people we have:
CNN - The Voyager 1 probe is still exploring interstellar space 45 years after launching, but it has encountered an issue that mystifies the spacecraft's team on Earth.
Voyager 1 continues to operate well, despite its advanced age and 14.5 billion-mile distance (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth. And it can receive and execute commands sent from NASA, as well as gather and send back science data.
But the readouts from the attitude articulation and control system, which control the spacecraft's orientation in space, don't match up with what Voyager is actually doing. The attitude articulation and control system, or AACS, ensures that the probe's high-gain antenna remains pointed at Earth so Voyager can send data back to NASA. …
[T]he Voyager team believes the AACS is still working, but the instrument's data readouts seem random or impossible. …
Voyager's signal is as strong as ever, meaning the antenna is still pointed to Earth. The team is trying to determine if this incorrect data is coming directly from this instrument or if another system is causing it. …
"A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission," said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.
"The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated. We're also in interstellar space -- a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there's a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it." …
In 2017, the probe fired thrusters that were used during its initial planetary encounters during the 1970s -- and they still worked after remaining unused for 37 years.
So no big deal. Just a craft built with pretty much the same technology I used to build a digital clock from a kit in shop class is operating in a way that defies explanation. None of us can figure out a tip anymore without the calculators on our phones or the person behind the counter turning the screen with the 15-, 20- and 25% math already done for us. But people who chain smoked and had two martini lunches built things using slide rules that their children's children are talking to from 14.5 billion miles away. And in a world where you're lucky to get eight years out of a washing machine, Voyager is operating beyond peak capacity almost 50 years after it left the launch pad. In the harsh region of interstellar space.
And while we can be proud of our intellectual forebears, you'll have to pardon me if I'm creeped out by this news. We have no idea what is beyond our solar system. Once you get past the Oort cloud, anything could be happening out there. Or any thing. And this whole funky scenario sounds eerily familiar.
Spoiler Alert: This is exactly the scenario of the Star Trek movie. Not the one with Khan. And not the one with the whales. Those are great films. I'm talking about the first one. The shitty, boring one. Star Trek the Motion Picture. The one that was a crushing disappointment to a generation of Trekkies. Most significantly, me.
The whole time the Enterprise crew is running around chasing a thing calling itself VGER that threatens the Earth for some unknown reason. And it turns out that it's Voyager, with a couple of letters missing off its paint job or something. It went into deep space and had space probe sex with some other entity and became this damned thing:
So forgive me if I'm not in awe of this thing's performance. If it's doing things it's not supposed to be capable of, I say we're better off just letting it go. Take it offline like a computer that's been hacked before it can do damage to the whole network. Just let it drift off into the void so whatever is controlling it can't trace it back to its place of origin and destroy us all. Or most significantly, me. I've seen this movie before. And this time it might not end well.
Let whoever might have captured this thing keep the recordings of Earth music we put on it too: