Voyager – The Grand Tour


Martin Eberle’s Voyager – The Grand Tour, published in an edition of just 300 by Berlin-based Drittel Books, is, as the press release humbly states ‘a new publication about the NASA Voyager mission’. comprising three cloth-bound volumes within a slipcase bearing a silhouette of the mission’s famous Golden Record, it seems more fitting to describe it as an exhaustively detailed chronicle of an endeavour as complicated and contradictory in its planning as it was audacious and astounding in its (on-going) execution

so cemented is the Carl Sagan-ized version of the story in public consciousness that, as Eberle demonstrates, it’s easy to forget that when the mission was first conceived, a human-launched object had only just made it as far as Mars: the Mariner 4 flyby in 1965


in fact, for VGR77-2, VGR77-3 (the ‘real’ names of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2) and VGR77-1 (the baby sister that stayed at home at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), the narrative of a solar-system conquering, intergalactic ambassador of human achievement came later. against the socio-political context of 1970s America it took some convincing to get the project off the ground

“It could be incredibly visual and popular,” was the apparent advice of Bruce Murray, director of JPL from 1976–1982, to the Nixon White House. and so it proved – first as the probes dived into and around the giant gravity wells of the outer planets to make incredible images and discoveries and later, from a distance of 3.7 billion miles, when Voyager 1 turned towards home to capture the Pale Blue Dot we live on


the first volume of Eberle's tome, Voyager Mission History, details the spacecraft's original conception as a means of getting as far as Uranus eleven years faster than usual (thanks to an arrangement of planetary bodies that occurs only once every 176 years) all the way through to Earth-based popular culture’s name-checking of the most distant man-made objects in the universe (i.e. the appearance of the 'Voyager 6' probe in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture)

an unexpected thread of the history is the initial lack of support that the project’s star attraction – The Golden Record, subject of the second volume – received from NASA scientists. some questioned whether the inclusion of a golden phonogram record – replete with instructions for alien life forms on how to play the thing – was at best a gimmick and at worst unnecessary excess weight. it’s also striking to realise that of the catalogue of images currently hurtling towards the interstellar medium at a rate of 38,000 mph (Voyager 1) and 35,000 mph (Voyager 2), just 20 of the 118 representing the Earth are full colour, owing to the disc’s limited space


the final instalment of the book contains photographs that arguably belie the colossal nature of scientific achievement on show in the previous volumes. Eberle shot them during 2011 (just as Voyager 1 cleared the influence of the Sun’s solar wind), in and around the various locations that constitute the mission’s infrastructure on the ground in California, from offices to radar sites. it might be these images, among them depictions of Voyager models in all shapes and sizes – from full size replicas in vacuumed sealed laboratories to Lego brick incarnations sitting on the corners of coffee stained, paper laden desks – that would tell any curious extra-terrestrials more about the true nature of the beings that decided to seize the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime gravitational slingshot, on the off chance that someone out there wanted a audio-visual mixtape from another world

+ + +

Voyager – The Grand Tour is available to purchase in the UK exclusively through our shop