Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the men and women of NASA and Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who designed and flew the Voyager spacecraft, which have been exploring our solar system for thirty-five years and which are on the cusp of entering interstellar space. Even now, more than thirty-five years after launch, the Voyagers are still transmitting valuable scientific data through NASA's Deep Space Network, which is also managed by JPL.
Voyager 2, which was launched on August 20, 1977 and its twin, Voyager 1, which followed on September 5, 1977, were designed to take advantage of a rare alignment of the outer planets that allowed for a ``grand tour'' of the four gas giants that lie beyond the asteroid belt. The Voyager flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune built on the earlier missions of Pioneer 10 and 11 and revolutionized our understanding of the solar system and particularly the complex Jovian and Saturnian systems with their many and diverse moons. Galileo, Cassini and other subsequent missions to the outer planets have deepened our knowledge of our planetary neighbors, but they would not have been possible without the path breaking work of the Voyager team, many of whose members have devoted decades of their lives and careers to this one program.
Now, Voyager 1 is poised to become the first manmade object to leave the solar system and venture into the great void of space after completing its primary mission of exploring Jupiter and Saturn in 1980. Voyager 2, which went on to Uranus in 1986 and Neptune three years later, is not far behind. Both craft carry a gold ``record album'' containing sounds and images of Earth if either spacecraft is found by an alien civilization.
Voyager was among many spectaculars of NASA's planetary science program, which has contributed so much to our understanding of our celestial neighborhood and of ourselves. We were recently reminded of this when Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory, landed on the Red Planet last month. But these missions are not cheap and they take years to design, test and fly. They also require highly specialized teams of engineers and scientists to make them work and to interpret the data they return to Earth. And without missions to work on, this talent pool cannot survive.
That is why I am committed to ensuring that funding for NASA includes sufficient resources for a robust planetary exploration program that will provide for continued investigation of Mars, while also allowing us to visit the many other fascinating places in the solar system, like Jupiter's moon, Europa, which was photographed in detail by Voyager 2 in July 1979.
We cannot cede our leadership in space exploration and the incredible advances that come with it. I will continue to use my seat on the Appropriations committee to argue for a planetary exploration program that secures our continued place at the head of the table of space-faring nations.