voyage spacecraft (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Voyager teams honored for 40 years of IT excellence

Governments at all levels are working to modernize their legacy IT.  Sometimes, however, working with what you've got is the only option.  And at the recent Federal 100 Awards gala, GCN's sister publication FCW honored NASA's Voyager mission teams with a special award for showing just what's possible when innovation and dedication are required to keep systems running for the truly long haul.

In late August and early September of 1977, two spacecraft were launched on a mission to explore the large outer planets of our solar system -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune -- and beyond.   What started as a five-year mission to explore those planets morphed when the scientists realized there was a capability to go beyond the original mission and to continue the voyage into the heliosheath and interstellar space.

Voyager 1 has now left the solar system, and Voyager 2 is close behind. Forty years into the mission, the team uses imagination to work around the 4 kilobytes of computer storage the spacecraft have on board. 

And as longtime members of the project retire, a big challenge is finding replacements who can work in computer languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL.

One original team member who retired at age 81 said, ‘‘When we started this, I realized we were on a mission of discovery. I just had no idea how much discovery there was going to be. And I certainly had no idea that it would last as long as it has.’’

The mission itself will end eventually, as Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 run out of power.  But as Voyager team member Jeffrey Hayes noted in accepting the award:  "Even when the radioisotope generators on the spacecraft are finally depleted, both of them will continue to move out into the galaxy -- ambassadors of the human race as we take our first tentative steps into deep space."

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