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ATPM 13.10
October 2007



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by Mark Tennent,

Now and Then Voyager

It was 30 years ago when Voyager 1 started on its mission. Not quite seeking out new life-forms and splitting infinitives, but there’s still time. Voyager’s speed is now roughly 34,000 mph or about 307 million miles per year—so great, even the Stig would be impressed.

Voyager 1 and 2 were designed originally to fly past every planet in the solar system. Even after the program was scaled back, they only missed Pluto, still classed as a planet in the 1970s. In the 1990s, Voyager 1 zoomed past Pioneer 10, at the time the furthest man-made object. Today, Voyager 1 continues to collect data on a digital tape recorder which it transmits to Earth every six months.

Powerful But Powerless

The computing power controlling each Voyager consists of three 6.4 MHz RCA 1802 CPUs. Although military strength, they are about as fast as the average home computer of the early 1980s. The CPUs have managed the scientific instruments, navigated past all the planets, dealt with control and sequencing, fault detection and correction.

Originally they had ample electrical supply from the on-board plutonium-powered generators, but time has taken its toll, electric output is depleting, and thermocouples are degrading. Eventually, around 2020, power levels will be too low to support any of the scientific instruments, and the Voyagers will turn off.

Unless, that is, one falls into a black hole, meets a race of hyper-intelligent machines who fix it, truncate its name, and send it home.


It was 30 years ago that I got married. Since then I’ve not sought out a new life-form in case my head gets split infinitely as the frying pan crashes down on it. The Stig would definitely be unimpressed by the speed I can reach, and I plan to keep going after 2020 as well.

But at least my computing power has come on a bit. Back then the best I had was still four years away—a 48K, 8-bit Spectrum, also tape powered. Nowadays, Spectrum emulators on our current machines make Jet Set Willy so fast as to be virtually un-playable, but at least Elite becomes less of a tedious trip.

However, a recent job involving a gazillion images made me realize it’s time for a new computer. The question is which to get, Windows, Linux, Solaris, or Mac?

Stupid question—there’s only one worth having which will run them all. All I need are the readies and hope that Apple doesn’t bring out a newer, faster, cheaper Mac a day after I take delivery of mine.

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Reader Comments (2)

Grover Watson · January 19, 2008 - 14:56 EST #1
I feel you. I'm currently still running a Quicksilver G4 Mac
I bought back in 2001. The thing was originally a 733 Mhz
Box with something very cutting edge for the time.. a built in CD burner. It's had two new Superdrives and two processor upgrades and several Hard drive swaps. I'm now running a 1.8Ghz processor with 2 sata drives and 700Gbs of HD storage and I'm about to the edge of upgrading for this box. I'm afraid to plunk down the hard cash I've saved by upgrading, but when it comes to a new box, is there any question about what I'll buy?
The wife says she'll gladly take my Quicksilver for her bedroom office.
Mark Tennent (ATPM Staff) · January 19, 2008 - 16:05 EST #2
We happily take ownership of the cast-offs our children give us. That's how a useful free G3 iBook arrived last Christmas.

Now my daughter tells me she can get wholesale prices on all Mac kit and software. I'm trying to think as many ways as I can to be extra good to her.

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