The Amazing Voyager I Spacecraft

Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched in 1977 and is traveling at almost 40,000 miles per hour. It is currently over 13 billion miles away from Earth. It moved into interstellar space in 2012.

But we are still getting data from Voyager to Earth. It takes 19 hours to get that data. It is estimated that the data will stop in 2025 because the radioisotope thermoelectric generators will stop providing power for the instruments.

Don't write the old spacecraft off. Voyager has fired up a pair of thrusters that haven’t been used for 37 years. NASA engineers noticed the spacecraft’s attitude changed using trajectory control maneuver thrusters to make minute adjustments to the craft’s orientation and keep its antenna pointed back at Earth.

When it passed Saturn (how strange to write that), they went dead, but now after almost 40 years they are back. NASA can use the thrusters to make adjustments, which will use up more energy but could add a few years to the mission’s life.



Mark I Perceptron displayed at the Smithsonian museum

Perceptron as supposed to be a machine, but it began as an algorithm and is still used in that context. It is a piece of tech history from the early days of artificial intelligence (AI).

The perceptron algorithm was invented in 1957 at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory by Frank Rosenblatt, funded by the United States Office of Naval Research.

Its first implementation was in software for the IBM 704, and it was subsequently implemented in some custom-built hardware known as the "Mark 1 perceptron." It was one of the first artificial neural networks to be produced.

The Mark 1 perceptron was designed for image recognition and used 400 photocells connected to the "neurons." Still to this day, perceptrons are used generically as a basic neural network.

The algorithm's use was not without controversy. At a 1958 US Navy press conference, some of Rosenblatt's comments opened a controversy among the fledgling AI community. The New York Times picked up on this and reported that the perceptron would be "the embryo of an electronic computer that [the Navy] expects will be able to walk, talk, see, write, reproduce itself and be conscious of its existence."

This fear about "machine learning" was, and still is, feared by many people. Giving computers the ability to learn on their own without being explicitly programmed strikes some people as technology gone wild.

AI has met with ethical and technical hurdles. Steven Pinker has said that trying to duplicate the way the human brain works shows that for computers "Hard is easy. Easy is hard." Computers can do very complex calculations. They can calculate the depth of the ocean and project the outcomes of complicated experiments. But they have trouble answering a question such as "Can a shark play baseball?" which even a child could answer.

The First Americans

The kind of migration illustration that was in books showing the land bridge theory.

How did the first people arrive in the Americas? When I was in school the book showed some people in furs making their way out of the frozen tundra and across a land bridge from Siberia. The land bridge is gone, well, it is submerged. But those people made it over it at the end of the last ice age when the glaciers retreated and gave them a corridor to North America.

But were they the first? The Americas covers a lot of land. There’ is evidence in Chile of a human presence on that coast at least by 14-18,000 years ago. In Florida, researchers found evidence of a mastodon butchering site that’s about 14,550 years old.

But a new look at a theory from the 20th century that looks at archaeological and genetic evidence that the first humans to arrive in the Americas may have followed the north Pacific coast from Asia to North America. This path is being called the "kelp highway" and if this theory holds true those people traveled the route well before glaciers retreated and other people came over the land bridge.

About 16,000 years ago, if people were traveling south on the coastline they would have had a clear route at sea level. There would have been fish, shellfish and other resources. There was no dangerous ocean crossing to make.

The new look at this theory supposes that these earliest of Americans moved south into Central America.

The old land bridge theory has a few cracks. Studies of pollen, fossils and DNA that the Siberia ice route wouldn't have opened until about 12,600 years ago. Oh, the came, but they were not first.

There is more searching to be done for places they stopped along the kelp highway. Maybe those first people followed the coastline in skin boats. Maybe.

We know a lot. We keep finding out more. We have so much more to discover.