Voyager memory still good at 35

How does memory on Voyager compare to other spacecraft or a modern smartphone?

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Wednesday of this week marked the 35th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1; its sister craft, Voyager 2, celebrated the 35th anniversary of its own launch last month. Right now, both space probes are still going strong hurtling through space and are getting close to the edge of the solar system; Voyager 1 is 11 billion miles from the sun and Voyager 2 9 billion miles away.

I don’t know about you, but 35 was right around the age where I started to find myself walking into a lot of rooms and saying, “Wait, why did I come in here?” That age seemed to mark the beginning of a slow decline in my memory which shows no sign of letting up with my 43rd birthday approaching later this year.

Wait, what was I writing about again? Oh yes, the Voyager spacecraft.

Unlike my brain, Voyager’s on-board memory seems to be as sharp as ever (despite needing the occasional reboot). Both Voyagers are relics of 1970’s technology, featuring computers with a whopping 68kB of memory, eight-track tape recorders and (I’m assuming) “Keep on Truckin’” mud flaps.

The stat about the on-board memory caught my eye. A measly 68kB to power each of those crafts through billions of miles of space and capture invaluable types and amounts of scientific data for three and a half decades, and they’re expected to keep functioning into the 2020’s, when their fuel finally runs out. Very unlike my first big-screen LCD TV that crapped out after only three years. Truly amazing!

Much like when I read about the lines of code that power the Curiosity rover up on Mars, this stat made me wonder how the Voyagers compare to historical and modern day technology, in terms of memory. So, I did a little noodling and Googling around (sorry, I don't Bing) and came up with the following chart:


ITworld/Phil Johnson

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