The oldsters can still cut it (surprise, surprise)
“I try to stay out of the elevator and take the stairs,” Ms. Dodd said. “They’re doing important work there, and I’ll only slow them down.”
At 52, Ms. Dodd is a relative newcomer to Voyager, first working on the mission in 1984. Now she and her team seem poised to return to the spotlight.
As the solar system’s edge grew tantalizingly close, NASA asked the Voyager scientists to increase the amount of data collection. The problem: the 8-track data recorders from 1977 were not exactly bursting with extra space. Could Ms. Dodd even find anyone who specialized in that piece of technology and could coax it to record more?
“These younger engineers can write a lot of sloppy code, and it doesn’t matter, but here, with very limited capacity, you have to be extremely precise and have a real strategy,” she said.
She was able to find her man: Lawrence J. Zottarelli, 77, a retired NASA engineer. He came up with a solution. But would it work?
Mr. Zottarelli waited at Voyager mission control one afternoon last month to find out. The first of the newly programmed data dumps was set to come down. Ms. Dodd, Dr. Stone and Mr. Zottarelli watched two old Sun Microsystems computers like children watching for a chick to peck through an egg. “Nine, eight, seven,” Dr. Stone counted down.
“Everything’s fine,” said Mr. Zottarelli, flashing a thumbs up. “You’re on your own now.”
The relief was written all over Ms. Dodd’s face. “It’s not easy flying an old spacecraft,” she said.
Her eyes moved to Dr. Stone, who was peering at a computer through his trifocals.
“There are lots of old missions,” he responded with a sly smile. “But not many are doing exciting new things.”
Oh, man. Voyager's running on 8-track tape. That takes me back!