Voyager space probes face shutdown

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Monday, April 4, 2005

Voyager 2 space probe source: NASA

Interplanetary space probes Voyager 1 and 2, after traveling 28 years and 14 billion kilometers to the edge of the solar system and the threshold of interstellar space, face a possible shutdown in October of this year.

NASA's Earth-Sun System division, which runs the program, amongst others, has had to cut its budget for next year from 74 million to 53 million dollars, calling for some project abandonments. The cuts for Voyager and other missions are planned to help fund President George W. Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration", his plan to return to the moon and a manned mission to Mars.

According to the Washington Post, Dick Fisher, NASA's deputy director for the Earth-Sun division, said the agency based its cuts on a "senior review" by outside experts, giving Voyager a low priority among the division's 13 "extended" missions.

It costs NASA $4.2 million a year to run the Voyager science programs which have an expected operating lifetime to the year 2020. Both spacecraft function well and continue to return valuable scientific data. Most recently, information about massive solar flares that occurred in 2003 and the resulting shock waves that traveled through the solar system were detected by Voyager 2 in April of 2004.

"There are no other plans to reach the edge of the solar system," said Stamatios Krimigis, on board the Voyager mission since before the launch in 1977. "Now we're getting all this new information, and here comes NASA saying, 'We want to pull the plug.' "

Other missions possibly affected by the budget cuts include: Ulysses, to study the sun; Geotail, Wind, and Polar studying effects of solar events on Earth; Fast Auroral SnapshoT (FAST), studying Earth's aurora and the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE), studying solar atmosphere and magnetic fields.

No final decisions have been made as of yet but are expected to come sometime this month, possibly by April 15. Edward Stone of the California Institute of Technology told Nature magazine: "We are currently developing a plan for shutdown."

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