Today in History – February 17, 1998 – “ Voyager 1 becomes the most distant human-made object from the Sun. Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977 and it passed Saturn in November 1980. It continues a trajectory that takes it out of the solar system, making it the most distant spacecraft from Earth and our Sun (as far as we know). It has passed the termination shock, the place where the solar wind abruptly slows down, and traveled through a zone called the heliosheath where the Sun’s magnetic field and solar wind dominate the environment. Its boundary, called the heliopause, is where the interstellar wind takes over. A second spacecraft, the Voyager 2, was launched earlier on August 20, 1977 but Voyager 1 reached the outer solar system and interstellar space earlier due to its trajectory design for outer space and gravity-assist from Jupiter.
Sharing Carl Sagan‘s belief that Earth is not the only planet with advanced technology, I find the “Golden Record “ one of the most interesting parts of the Voyager mission. This gold-plated copper “phonograph record” is a kind of time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. Assembled by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, these sounds and images were “selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth“.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on the Voyager 1 and space exploration. For related educational resources, visit the Aerospace Engineering Education Community site. The Engineering Pathway also hosts Engineering Education communities in all ABET-accredited disciplines.
Also on this date in 1901, Kettering’s first electric self-starter was installed on automobile, allowing drivers to start the automobile engine without having to crank it. Kettering was involved in a number of research projects at Delco Automotive, inventing a portable electric generator and other important automobile innovations, such as electric lights for automobiles for night time use. General Motors purchased Delco in 1916, much due to Kettering’s inventions and commercial successes. Kettering led a research and development division at General Motors and became a vice president in the company in 1920. He continued to develop new technologies for automobiles throughout his life, including spark plugs, leaded gasoline, automatic transmissions, and four-wheel brakes, diesel engines, safety glass, and the refrigerant Freon.