On September 5, 1977, NASA launched Voyager 1, a small 700 kg space probe with a special mission: to boldly go where no one or no thing has gone before. The Voyager 1 was designed to explore the outer edges of our solar system and beyond, and it has been doing just that for more than four decades.
Voyager 1 had a twin, Voyager 2, which was actually launched 16 days earlier. Both were on similar missions, and working together they were able to send back detailed images and other data about Jupiter and its moons, Saturn and its moons, Uranus and Neptune.
During the initial stages of its trek, Voyager 1 focused on Jupiter and Saturn. It discovered two new moons orbiting Jupiter, and revealed the existence of volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io. This proved that large moons could be geologically active just like planets. As it approached Europa, the most well-known moon of Jupiter, it took pictures that seemed to confirm the planet was covered by ice, which could mean that there’s a liquid ocean below. Traveling further out, Voyager 1 also discovered two new moons of Saturn (Prometheus and Pandora), along with a brand new ring (which was labeled the ‘G’ ring) encircling the planet.
The encounters of Voyager 1 with Jupiter and Saturn occurred a long time ago, in 1979-80. It took the probe another 32 years after that to fully exit the Sun’s sphere of influence, which highlights the immense distance that separates our Earth from the edges of our solar system. Before we could even begin to contemplate sending manned missions to Jupiter and beyond, we would need to develop spacecrafts that are many times faster than those we have currently have in the developmental stage.