Book, Film, Video Reviews

Review of “The Farthest: Voyager in Space” – Becoming Interstellar

By Keith Cowing
Keith Cowing
August 21, 2017
Filed under ,
Review of “The Farthest: Voyager in Space” – Becoming Interstellar
Voyager exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum

In 1977 the twin Voyager spacecraft left planet Earth bound for the outer reaches of our solar system – and beyond. What they discovered changed our way of thinking about how worlds are built and broadened our notions of where life might be found. The story of this audacious project is told in the captivating new documentary “The Farthest: Voyager In Space” which is airing on PBS this week.

The film itself is weaved together rather artfully – not unlike the sounds and images that were placed on the now-famous “Golden Records” that each spacecraft carried. The story is narrated mostly by people who were there. Indeed its like listening to the crew of a ship of discovery recount the days of wonder that they experienced.

Perhaps the best description of the project in the film – which has continued for decades – comes from Carolyn Porco: “Voyager to me was Homeric. It was years of passing across the solar system from one planet to the other. And then it was a week or two of frenzied activity and discovery and conquest. And then it was, well, back in the boats, oars in the water, and on to the next conquest.”

This is a multigenerational story. If you were alive in the 70s and 80s then the fashions, the music, and the technology are familiar. Like everyone else with an interest in space, I find my own life punctuated and illustrated by Voyager. And as I watch the film my own life’s timeline is played backward and forward. That the film provokes one to think about efforts that span more than a generation allows the viewer to better contemplate the true scope of this endeavor.

In 1976 I visited the newly opened National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC with its giant Voyager model. Along the walls were artist’s concepts of what it might see and some hazy pictures taken by Pioneers 10 and 11. In 1977 as the Voyagers were being launched I was in college and still going to see the recently-released film “Star Wars” which was still in theaters.

In 1979 I was back in the theaters again (multiple times) to see the new Star Trek film which had a cameo by a Voyager (VGER). In 1981 I was working in Los Angeles on Gov. Jerry Brown’s political staff and found myself at JPL for both Voyager encounters with Saturn.

In January 1986 as Voyager 1 flew past Uranus I was in grad school writing a letter to someone with an experiment aboard Space Shuttle Challenger. A few days later I wrote a letter to the President, NASA, and my member of Congress suggesting that the recently discovered moons of Uranus be named after the crew of Challenger (they weren’t).

In 1989 I was working at NASA Headquarters as Voyager 2 flew past Neptune. Shortly thereafter it began its “Interstellar” mission. As a NASA newbie seeing briefings with the word “interstellar” on them really set my imagination afire. In 1990 I recall the “family portrait” posters being hung around my office at NASA.


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻