While the word probe is used conversationally to mean to examine physically or refers to an instrument designed for that sort of physical examination, the word probe comes from a Latin word meaning to test or the result of such a test, proof. This week, we celebrate both senses of this word and the spacecraft that embody both meanings, that carry out our examination and testing of the universe that surrounds us.
This week in 1978, NASA launched a satellite called Landsat 3, part of the ongoing Landsat program. Rather than studying the far reaches of space, Landsat is designed to study Earth, to give us a comprehensive view of our own planet. This week in 1979, Voyager 1 made its closest pass of Jupiter, sending back information about the planet’s climate, surface, and moons. The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft were launched in 1977 and continue to travel farther and farther from Earth. This week in 1982, the Soviet spacecraft Venera 14 landed on Venus. The identical Venera 13 and Venera 14 spacecraft—each flying a combination mission that included flyby-and-landers—launched five days apart and landed within six-hundred miles of each other. A host of space probes are out there doing what space probes do. This week, we take a few minutes to ponder what that might mean about who we are and how we know our universe.