What still amazes me is how so many of the 1970's era space probes were so insanely successful.
|Posted: 27 August 2017 at 10:47am | IP Logged | 5
V'Ger 1 and 2 are still going (V'Ger's 3-6, no one talks about).
V'Ger 3-6 were top, top secret. Launched during the Eugenics Wars. :-)
What's even more amazing is the that the 1970's era probes were designed and built with **1960's technology**. In fact, that's their saving grace and why some of them are still communicating with us today.
The biggest barrier for space travel, both manned and unmanned is interstellar and cosmic radiation. Radiation energizes molecules and atoms which transfer this energy to electrons and these electrons can get very jumpy and go to places they don't normally go. 1960's electronic design used mostly discrete analog electronics -- I'm talking big honking resistors, capacitors, diodes and transistors.
ICs and chips where you condensed components onto one die to save space and power were rarely used in the early space program because the smaller you get the more radiation can affect the electronics. Remember those jumpy electrons? They are now jumping between the smaller spaces between components and traces in your electronics and you have malfunctioning electronics. Today's microelectronics like your phone and laptop are almost completely useless in space, which is quite unlike the environment here on Earth because 99% of that radiation is deflected away by the Van Allen belts.
Remember too, size and weight are huge concerns in space travel both in terms of energy and money. You need to get things smaller and lighter but you quickly reach the limit where the components can't function properly in the environment of space, not to mention that you can't easily repair them without specialized equipment. You then have to build redundant backups for every system which adds weight and takes up space. $$$.
Ever tried to instruct a relative across town to do something on a computer over the phone? Now imagine trying to instruct an astronaut millions of miles away (with a time delay) how to find and solder a small component on a huge circuit board. On a robotic mission you don't even have that luxury. If your system is busted it stays busted forever. You might not even know it's busted until your probe gets where it's going, which is why so many of the Mars probes of the last decade or two have been washouts.
The simple fact they can send a signal to a robot millions of miles away and it wakes up, sends a signal back and gets to work out there is nothing short of amazing magic to me.
Sending humans into space is usually more about politics and PR than it is about science -- the entire lunar program was in essence an ideological cock size contest. Sure, we brought back some moon rocks and did some simple experiments but for me the real science is/was happening with the robotic probes. It's also a hell of a lot cheaper.