Boldly Going ... Going ... Gone! Why Voyager 1's Entrance Into Interstellar Space Is Such a Big Deal

An explainer starring Neil deGrasse Tyson, Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, and other space celebrities

This afternoon, NASA made a big announcement: Its Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched from Earth 36 years ago, has entered interstellar space. Nerds the world over -- your correspondent included -- proceeded to freak out. This is big. 

But why, you ask, does it matter that Voyager 1 is no longer, in the most meaningful way possible, with us? Why should we care that some chunk of metal tooling around millions of miles away from Earth is now sliiiiightly farther from us than it was before?

Because the now-starship Voyager's move into interstellar space represents the passage of a significant benchmark in the annals of human history. It may not be quite Columbus- or Wright- or Armstrong-level in the leap forward it represents, but it's certainly following in those explorers' footsteps as a human accomplishment. We are now, via Voyager, in a new space within space.  We have never traveled this far before. One small step for a spaceship is one giant leap for mankind. 

But don't take my word for it. Others can explain the meaning of Voyager's passage much better than I can.

"It's the farthest thing we've ever sent anywhere," says Neil DeGrasse Tyson in the video above. "Dad would be enormously proud," Nick Sagan, Carl Sagan's son, explains, adding: "It's a great celebration. It's an enormous accomplishment." "We are boldly going," LeVar Burton says, "where no one has gone before." 

Or as Wil Wheaton, unofficial king of the nerds of Earth, sums it up: "This is awesome."

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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