Voyager 1 is sending binary gibberish to Earth from 15.1 billion miles away

NASA is working on a fix, which is complicated by the billions of miles between the craft and Earth.
By | Published: March 8, 2024 | Last updated on March 14, 2024

Update: According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory spokesperson Calla Coffield on March 8, the problem is still unresolved. However, the NASA team is fairly confident it is flight data system’s (FDS) memory that is causing the problems. The fixes have been minimal, however there are more ambitious fixes yet to be announced. As of now, the team has no plans to retire the mission.

Voyager 1, the most distant human-made object from Earth, is behaving strangely. It’s not easy to diagnose and fix problems from 15.1 billion miles (24.4 billion kilometers) away, but NASA is trying.

NASA reported Dec. 12 that the probe’s flight data system (FDS) — consisting of three onboard computers — is sending nonsense binary data back to Earth. The mix of ones and zeros is coming in a repeating pattern that appeared to be “stuck.” Before you ask, yes, they tried rebooting. According to a NASA news release, the team tried to restart the FDS, but it did not help. 

Andrew Good works in media relations for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and emailed an update from Voyager project manager Suzy Dodd. They’re working diligently to fix it, and there was no sign of a problem before it happened.

The team is looking for a solution by examining old documents, and making sure to not overwrite essential code. A difficulty with fixing the problem is the length of time it takes to deliver and receive messages. Because the spacecraft is in interstellar space, it takes 22-1/2 hours for any kind of patch to reach the probe and the same length of time to find out if it worked.

Meanwhile, the similarly-named Voyager 2 is 12.6 billion miles (20.2 billion km) away, and is operating normally after a communication glitch over the summer. Scientists are hopeful it will continue to function until its power supply runs out sometime after 2026.

Related: A list of current and planned space missions

The two spacecrafts are the only human-made objects to enter interstellar space from Earth. Both carry the Golden Record, a collection of images and sounds selected by Carl Sagan and associates.