Giant ground-bound NASA antennas heard a “heartbeat” Tuesday indicating the 1970s-vintage Voyager 2 probe over 12.3 billion miles from Earth was still operational.
The agency had initially lost contact with the probe on July 21.
Planned commands to the craft caused its antenna to point two degrees away from Earth. With an off-kilter antenna, Voyager data could not be sent to Earth and Earth commands could not be sent to Voyager 2.
Engineers from NASA will now try to send a command to the probe to get the craft to reorient its antenna to Earth, thereby reestablishing normal contact between Voyager 2 and ground control.
However, engineers are not expecting this first try to work. If the remote fixes do not work, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, automatic programming for the probe will allow Voyager 2 to fix itself on Oct. 15.
“That is a long time to wait, so we’ll try sending up commands several times,” Voyager Project Manager Suzanne Dodd told the Associated Press.
Each signal, including the attempted fixes, takes over 18 hours one way to reach its target.
The twin Voyager 1 probe, launched 16 days after Voyager 2 in 1977, has maintained normal communication with ground control. That device is about 15 billion miles away from Earth.