The intrepid Voyager 2 spacecraft, hurtling through the solar system on its way to a fourth planetary encounter, responded to orders relayed by flight engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Friday and fired up its small rockets to make a course change.
The maneuver is one of several that Voyager will have to perform as it journeys toward an encounter with Neptune in 1989. But since the old spacecraft is already well past its original life expectancy, any response to commands from Earth is welcome, according to project officials.
"The preliminary indications were that it went fine," said Lanny Miller, head of the flight engineering team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the space agency's lead center for unmanned missions. He said engineers will not be absolutely sure it worked until they have analyzed data over the next few days.
Time of Arrival Changed
Miller said Voyager's hydrazine thrusters were fired for about 70 minutes early Friday morning "to change the time of arrival (at Neptune) to be in sync with the motions of the satellites." Since Neptune's moons are as important to scientists as the planet itself, engineers want the probe to arrive at Neptune when the moons are in the best position relative to the craft's course.