The line between science fiction and science fact – and more specifically between Star Trek and science fact -- is growing increasingly blurred. The latest case in point? NASA’s plutonium-powered Voyager 1 probe, launched in 1977, has gained the distinction of becoming the first manmade object to exit the solar system, a fact announced Thursday during a NASA press conference. Voyager – which actually departed the solar system last year; the data took a while to be received -- is now nearly 12 billion miles from Earth. And yes, it carries with a record player, and a golden record with songs by the likes of Bach, Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry, as well as photographs and greetings in several languages.
During the press conference in Washington, NASA’s Dr. John Grunsfeld stepped to the podium accompanied by the Original Series theme music. He then proceeded to put a Voyager 1 spin on the iconic opening dialogue, saying: "Space: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Voyager. Its 36-year mission… to explore strange new worlds, to seek out anomalous cosmic rays and new plasmas, to boldly go where no probe has gone before. Those words from Star Trek, of course, have inspired so many of us and I think are characteristic of the excitement and the discoveries we're going to talk about today. Voyager, like the ancient mariners, is pushing out into new territory… Someday humans will leave our cocoon in the solar system to explore beyond our home system. Voyager will have led the way."
Of course, the Star Trek-Voyager connection doesn’t end there. Star Trek: The Motion Picture featured a character named V’Ger. The sentient, creator-seeking entity was actually the Voyager 6, a fictitious 20th-century probe that disappeared into a black hole, where a race a living machines eventually breathed life into it. That set V'Ger on its destructive path and on to a date with destiny in the form of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Ilia, etc.
May Voyager 1… live long and prosper.