In 1972, there began work on a pair of spacecraft that would expand humanity's knowledge about our solar system to a highly significant degree. It was called the Voyager Mission, and followed on from the Pioneer Mission, bringing the best technology of the nineteen-seventies to bear on an expedition that would send a gadget-filled duo of explorers out to gather information and images of four of the planets past Mars: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Until now, those heavenly bodies had only been able to be captured through telescopes, and the none-too-distinct images from those were inadequate. Voyager would be something a lot clearer - a lot better.
The Farthest was a documentary on the two probes made in the year of the fortieth anniversary of their launch, and while director Emer Reynolds stuck with least flashy style possible, there was no way her film was not going to be lifted by the quality of its outer space visuals, all offered by NASA's decades long endeavours to offer us a better understanding of where we were in the universe, never mind the solar system. Arguably the world is in both a better and worse place socially and politically than it was back in 1977, but one thing is for certain, the global community has changed a lot, so it was fascinating to go back and see what we were like when we set out on this exploration.
You may, say, what do you mean, "we"? But a point the documentary kept returning to was the aspect to the Voyagers that caught the imagination of everyone who heard about it: the record included among its machinery. An actual record, not on vinyl but durable metal, complete with a stylus and instructions to play it, and containing a collection of carefully chosen greetings in a selection of Earth languages and pieces of music, most famously Beethoven's 5th and Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode. Now, as was explained here, the chances of any alien life form finding Voyager and playing this record were beyond tiny, so you had the impression this was more for our benefit than it was the aliens'.
It also said a lot about the seventies, when interest in what lay beyond, both materially and spiritually, was uppermost in the minds of billions, belief in space aliens at a fresh high therefore the idea we could make contact with some intelligence out there with Voyager was a potent one. It's not something you could imagine a deep space probe sent out in the 21st Century including, not in that form at least, but also because there were no real missions as ambitious as Voyager being sent out at this time, there simply wasn't the money and the idea that this was wasteful, when there were problems down on Earth the funds could be spent on, had grown both pernicious and widespread. Therefore looking back on the Voyager expedition was like looking on another world in a different way as intended.
Reynolds took us to the various successes of Voyagers 1 and 2, as they passed by their four destinations, and the visuals of simply seeing something that for the whole of human existence nobody had ever witnessed still carried a major charge of awe. A group of scientists who were involved back then and throughout were interviewed as the talking heads, and their unalloyed enthusiasm for the project and how that carried over to their old age, utterly undimmed, was charming and a testament to the benefits of staying young at heart. While this was all very well, it was not until the last half hour of the two-hour work that The Farthest became unexpectedly moving, giving the probes a personality that only humanity could place upon it, because they were a representative of the greatest of our achievements, and they would carry on into deep space for aeons after we were gone, possibly the only evidence we were ever here. In a strange way they gave us hope for the future, how nice when doomsday was predicted daily back on Earth. Music by Ray Harman (with some well-chosen songs too).