"It’s an excellent development on Voyager."

Signs of Life

Late last year, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft, which has been traveling through space since launching almost 50 years ago, started sending nonsensical messages back to Earth, as if senility was catching up with it.

"We'd gone from having a conversation with Voyager, with the 1’s and 0’s containing science data, to just a dial tone," Voyager project scientist Linda Spilker told Scientific American.

But now, according to NASA's latest update, the Voyager mission team has spotted a sign of life — in the form of a signal that turned out to be readout of the memory of the aging spacecraft's flight data subsystem (FDS), an onboard computer that readies packets of data to be transmitted to Earth.

The data wasn't in the proper format, but at least it was something. So while there are no guarantees, it's a hopeful sign of life that could allow Voyager 1 to continue its decades-long mission.

"It’s an excellent development on Voyager," Joe Westlake, director of NASA’s heliophysics division, told SciAm.

Excellent Development

The memory contains a wealth of data about Voyager 1's status, including "science or engineering data for downlink," per NASA.

The engineers are now comparing the data to the previous readout to figure out if there are any discrepancies that could explain why the spacecraft has been acting so strangely.

But it'll likely take some time to come to any conclusions.

"The team is analyzing the readout," the space agency's update reads. "Using that information to devise a potential solution and attempt to put it into action will take time."

The ancient spacecraft has already been through many challenging times, from dwindling power supplies and grimy thrusters to near-fatal software glitches.

Despite the many hurdles, scientists are still trying to squeeze every bit of life that may — or may not — be left.

"My motto for a long time was 50 years or bust," astronomer Stamatios Krimigis, who has worked on the Voyager 1 mission since the 1970s, told NPR earlier this month, "but we're sort of approaching that."

More on Voyager: NASA Concerned as Voyager 1 Sending Back Incomprehensible Code

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