Resilient Voyagers: golden records vs. galactic whoopsies

Voyager 2 was launched 50 years ago, and its mission in space is still ongoing.

This week, you may have heard that its antenna got re-positioned due to an incorrect series of commands.

The good news is this: several times a year, Voyager 2 is programmed to reset the antenna's orientation. I think it goes about it the ancient-sailor way, by measuring its position relative to some well-known stars in the sky (although romantic AF, I can't confirm that).

Think about this for a minute. Fifty years ago, somebody was designing that thing. The flashy feature that everyone talks about is the Voyager's golden record, of course. But the thing that keeps the Voyager going - the feature which means we're not worried (yet...) about losing contact with the machine - that's because someone, half a century ago, might have thought along the lines of, How can I make this machine resilient enough to withstand decades of unpredictable interaction with the least trustworthy human I can imagine?

This is the difference between considering the greatest voices and music of humanity, and considering one (possibly) overworked, insomniac, distracted human who presses "Return" and sends their whoopsie into outer space.

It's the difference between focusing on the fame, glitz and grandeur, and taking the time to account for doubt, misunderstanding, and fallibility.

And the difference between a one-and-done headline-grabbing feat, and a solution which would be in use for half a century, regardless of the IQ, energy levels, or ego of anyone back home.

Think about what it took to design this, back in the 1970s. Consider that whoever made sure we're able to talk to Voyager had no idea what 2023 would be like. And yet, here we are.

Now think about the thing you're trying to build today, in 2023. Are you made to plan for an obscure golden record, or for decades of kind, generous, resilient service?

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