The Voyagers in Popular Culture

Whether you’re
traveling across cities, continents or even
oceans this holiday season, there
is no long-haul flight quite
like that of the Voyagers.

This year, we
celebrated 40 years since the launch of NASA’s
twin Voyager probes — the two
farthest, fastest spacecraft
currently in operation. Each Voyager has contributed
enormous amount of knowledge about the solar system, including
unexpected diversity of its planets and their moons.
their many distinctions
, Voyager 1 is the only spacecraft
enter interstellar space, and Voyager 2 is the only
spacecraft to fly by all
four giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn,
Uranus and Neptune.

DOWNLOAD VIDEO Voyager Images from the Odysseys

You might have
missed the virtual Voyager party, though, since
there was a lot of other space
news around the time of the
Voyager launch anniversaries. The solar eclipse,
across America, took place on Aug. 21, just one day after
Voyager 2
marked 40 years in flight. Sept. 5 was Voyager 1’s
launch anniversary, but
space fans were already gearing up to
commemorate the finale of NASA’s Cassini
mission on Sept. 15.

Don’t worry —
it’s never too late to appreciate the
far-reaching influence the Voyagers have
had. In fact, in
addition to the news coverage the spacecraft have received,
the spacecraft have also earned a place in popular culture.

So, since you
might have some downtime as we head into the
holidays, here are some
Voyager-related movies, TV shows and
songs. (Warning: a few spoilers ahead!)

Voyagers in Film and Television

Perhaps the
most widely recognized pop culture Voyager homage
is in the film “Star
Trek: The Motion Picture” from 1979. In
the film, a machine called V’Ger —
the fictional Voyager 6
spacecraft, its intelligence greatly enhanced by an
alien race
— seeks the home of its creator, Earth, and threatens to
havoc on our planet in the process. In real life, John
Casani, who was the Voyager
project manager at that time at
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
offered to loan a Voyager model to “Star Trek” creator Gene
Roddenberry. Although the movie version altered the original
design, it still
used the mission as an inspiration.

The spacecraft
had long passed the planets when a 2004 episode
of “The West Wing” —
titled “The Warfare of Genghis Khan” —
mentioned a major mission
milestone: Voyager 1 crossing the
termination shock. The termination shock is a
shockwave that
marks the point at which the solar wind from the Sun, which
travels at supersonic speeds up to that point, abruptly slows
down and heats
up. It represents the innermost part of the
boundary of the heliosphere, the
magnetic bubble that includes
the Sun, planets and solar wind. Due to the
termination shock
crossing, the character Josh Lyman (mistakenly) declares this
Voyager 1 to be the first man-made object to leave our solar
system (mistakenly,
because the solar system ends well beyond
that landmark). “Funny, I’m
going through a little termination
shock myself,” quips the character
Donna Moss.

More recently,
Voyager 1 did, in real life, cross into
interstellar space in 2012, although
technically it has still
not left the solar system. In 2013, to talk about that
milestone, the mission’s project scientist, Ed Stone of Caltech
in Pasadena, appeared
Comedy Central’s Colbert Report

The Golden Record

Each Voyager
contains a copy of a Golden Record filled with
Earth’s sights and sounds,
including images, music and audio
clips of people and animals. This record has
been featured in
several works of science fiction. In the 1984 film
a race of aliens discovers the record and sends an
emissary to
Earth to learn more about our planet.

A 1994 episode
of the X-Files titled “Little Green Men” also
paid homage to Voyager.
The episode opens with FBI agent Fox
Mulder describing the Voyager mission and
the Golden Record,
including images, music and a child’s voice saying, “Hello
from the children of planet Earth.” Mulder says the Voyagers
passed the
orbit of Neptune and “there were no further
messages sent,” but in
reality, the Voyagers still communicate
with Earth every day.

The mission
wasn’t exempt from fun on “Saturday Night Live.”
In episode 64, which
aired in 1978, a psychic played by actor
Steve Martin says the
extraterrestrials had found the record
and replied, “Send More Chuck
Berry” — referring to the
iconic song “Johnny B. Goode”
included on the Golden Record.
Learn more about the Golden Record and see a
full list of its
contents here.

And More

Voyager has
proved inspirational to contemporary musicians and
songwriters as well. The Academy
Award-winning composer Dario
Marianelli wrote a Voyager violin concerto that
had its world
premiere in 2014 in Brisbane, Australia, and was subsequently
played by the London
Symphony Orchestra
in 2015. Artist James Stretton also
wrote a song in honor of the Voyagers’ 40th anniversary.

For a deep dive
into the history of the mission, the
documentary “The Farthest”
premiered on PBS in August,
featuring numerous interviews with Voyager
scientists and
engineers, past and present.

And if you get
tired of looking at your own vacation photos,
there are lots to explore on
the Voyager website
. Live long and prosper, Voyagers!

The Voyager spacecraft were built by
NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which continues to
both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Voyager
are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System
Observatory, sponsored by the
Heliophysics Division of the
Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For
information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit:

News Media Contact

Elizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.