The Skimmer

Book review: Voyager by Stephen J. Pyne

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By Stephen J. Pyne

Viking; 444 pages

It's easy to forget the Voyager spacecraft. They haven't been seen on Earth since 1977, and neither one is even within the solar system any longer, depending on how you measure such things. But Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 might well be the two most remarkable space probes ever made, and Stephen J. Pyne's Voyager tells their thrilling tale gracefully and well. The Voyagers were built back in the days when NASA had cash to burn, when the agency would build matching ships for twofer missions, just in case one failed. Launched 16 days apart, the Voyagers were intended to fly by only Jupiter and Saturn. But in 1965, NASA discovered something nifty: in the late 1970s, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune would fall into a rare conga-line configuration, making it possible for a well-flown spacecraft to barnstorm them all. Pyne details the politics that drove the construction of the Voyagers and the innovation that made the four-planet grand tour a reality for one of them. For space geeks, it's a sweet read; for everyone else, it's an eye opener.