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NASA Solves Mystery Glitch on '70s Vintage Voyager 1 Spacecraft

The most distant spacecraft from Earth has been feeling its age.

Illustration of a 1970s Voyage spacecraft with a cone-like white section and antenna pointed up.
A NASA illustration shows a Voyager spacecraft.

Interstellar. It's not just the name of a blockbuster sci-fi movie, it's the reality of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, a 45-year-old explorer that's investigating the cosmos outside our solar system and weathering some of the problems that come from age and distance. On Tuesday, NASA JPL announced the Voyager team had tracked down the source of a pesky data glitch.

NASA shared the glitch issue in May, calling it a mystery. Voyager 1 was sending back weird, garbled telemetry data from its attitude articulation and control system (AACS), which is responsible for positioning the spacecraft and making sure its antenna is pointed in the right direction to communicate with Earth. However, the probe seemed to be operating normally.

It's tough to diagnose and fix a problem when Voyager 1 is so far away, but the team figured it out: "The AACS had started sending the telemetry data through an onboard computer known to have stopped working years ago, and the computer corrupted the information," NASA JPL said in a statement. The fix involved telling the AACS to switch back to the correct computer for sending data. 

While the solution sounds simple, the glitch hints at the possibility of a deeper problem. Engineers don't know why the glitch cropped up in the first place, but another computer sending a faulty command could be the culprit. Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd said the team is cautiously optimistic, but will continue to investigate the issue.

Voyager and its twin Voyager 2 launched in 1977 and are both outside our solar system. The NASA Voyager Twitter account, which is run in the voice of the spacecraft, tweeted, "The team has declared me healthy, which is great, because I still have more interstellar exploring to do!"