NASA's Voyager 1 Spacecraft Thrusters Work After Decades Of Being Dormant

American space probe Voyager I passes the rings of Saturn on its journey to the outer reaches of the Solar System, November 1980. An artist's impression. Keystone/Getty Images

NASA scientists successfully fired up the Voyager 1 spacecraft's thrusters on Wednesday after decades of being dormant.

In order to keep the spacecraft running, its thrusters have to function properly, but engineers weren't sure if the small devices were going to work considering they hadn't been used since November 1980. However, nearly 20 hours after firing up the backup thrusters, engineers received a signal from the Voyager back on Earth, which meant their test was successful.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test. The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all," Todd Barber, a propulsion engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said in a statement.

Ever since Voyager 1—NASA's farthest spacecraft— was launched, it has relied on its primary thrusters, called "attitude control thrusters." Although the devices are still working, a few years ago engineers began to notice they were deteriorating. This finding prompted NASA engineers at the JPL in Pasadena, California to examine the issue. They settled on what the space agency refers to as an "unusual solution:" to wake up the backup thrusters.

Looking for some hot stuff? I fired backup thrusters for the first time in 37 years, and they worked like a champ. This could extend my life 2-3 years.

— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) December 2, 2017

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters," Chris Jones, chief engineer at JPL, said in a statement.

Now that the four thrusters have proved to be operable, the Voyager 1 will have a longer mission.

"With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years without use, we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years," said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at JPL.

The thrusters I just fired were designed for planetary encounters. Those flybys revealed glamour shots like these.

— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) December 2, 2017

Although the Voyager 1's twin spacecraft—Voyager 2—launched just 16 days after Voyager 1, its standard thrusters appear to be in much better shape, NASA officials wrote. However, the engineers still plan to test out the backup thrusters, but they note that the test isn't urgent.

Both missions have provided many insights of outer space to engineers back on Earth. Some of the spacecrafts' significant findings include identifying the first active volcanoes beyond Earth and coming across Saturn's biggest moon, CNN reports.