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24th October 2012, 9:56am
Visiting professor’s interstellar story of the Voyager missions
Dr Chris Riley The latest documentary film by a University of Lincoln visiting professor will premiere on the BBC tonight, telling the incredible story of one of mankind’s greatest scientific achievements.

‘Voyager: to the final frontier’ celebrates NASA’s remarkable Voyager interstellar missions as we prepare to see these spacecraft leave the Solar System and literally cross their final frontier 35 years after they were first launched.

The film is produced and directed by Dr Chris Riley, Visiting Professor of Science and Media at the University of Lincoln, and presented by Dallas Campbell, well-known for fronting the hit science series ‘Bang Goes the Theory’.

Launched in the summer of 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 made mankind’s first close encounters with the giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn possible. Thirty five years on they continue to beam back information from 11 billion miles away, as they become the first objects built by humans to pass out of our solar system.

The unmanned spacecraft are believed to have enough onboard power to continue feeding back data to Earth until around 2025. Beyond that date, they will journey onwards into the depths of the galaxy without the capacity to communicate with scientists back home.

Poignantly, the Voyagers carry two phonograph 12-inch records, both gold-plated copper discs known as ‘The Golden Records’. These records feature compilations of music and pictures chosen to reflect aspects of human history and culture. They were created in case the craft are ever encountered by intelligent life elsewhere. To tell the story of this unique time capsule in the documentary, Riley and Campbell trawled through the BBC archives for footage of the famous American astronomer Carl Sagan, who died in 1996.

Chris said: “In a 1982 BBC radio interview Carl Sagan points out that these golden records will last for over 1,000 million years. That means they are likely to outlive the pyramids, they will outlive humans, and they might even outlive the Earth itself: they would become the only record of our existence. This makes them perhaps the most significant thing that we’ve ever accomplished as a species!”

Tonight’s documentary also includes a rare interview with mathematician Michael Minovitch, whose theoretical discoveries in the early 1960s made the Voyager missions possible.

Chris said he hoped dramatic human stories like those behind the Voyager missions could help to demystify the scientific process and encourage the public to take a greater interest in science by celebrating its importance to mankind’s greatest achievements.

“The media can make a significant contribution to science by inspiring a new generation to be more science literate,” he said. “The story of the Voyager missions is an incredible example of the things that humans are capable of, both as individuals and collectively. That’s a theme of many of the most compelling stories that attract us as filmmakers or audiences, whether it’s scientific breakthroughs or sporting achievements.

“The great thing about the course at Lincoln is that it’s built around nurturing great storytellers. The students have that in their blood. Society would be much poorer without having people like this with the skill to tell an engaging tale.”

Dr Chris Riley completed his PhD at Imperial College London where he worked on data from NASA’s early Spacelab 1 Shuttle mission. He then embarked on a career making science documentaries for the BBC. He has worked with the NASA film archive for the last 15 years on projects ranging from the BBC’s landmark series ‘The Planets’ to the acclaimed feature documentary ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’.

His latest book, a Haynes manual guide to the Apollo Lunar Rover, will be published on 1st November 2012 and is expected to be one of the best-selling science and nature books in the UK this Christmas. The release coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Lunar Rover’s last drive on the Moon in December 1972.

‘Voyager: to the final frontier’ will premiere on BBC Four tonight (Wednesday 24th October 2012) at 9pm.

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