Have you ever looked up at the night sky and been overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of it all? Have you ever thought of reaching through the endless sky and grabbing a star or two?
Scientifically implausible fantasies aside, do you know the farthest point in space on which humans have left their imprint?
You’ll have to consider two different scenarios here; first is how far humans have traveled in space, and the second is how far humans have made their presence felt in space. The answers to both these questions are different. Let’s look at them one at a time.
What’s the farthest that humans have ever traveled?
The all-American crew of Apollo 13 holds the record for traveling the farthest from our home planet.
Apollo 13 was the third manned mission intended to land on the moon, and only the seventh space mission in the entirety of the American Apollo Space program. It lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on April 11, 1970, at 13:13 CST. Its mission was to land on the lunar surface and explore the Fra Mauro formation, or the Fra Mauro Highlands, named after the 80-kilometer diameter Fra Mauro crater located within it.
However, its primary objective was scrubbed after it sustained an explosion in the oxygen tank of the Service Module (SM), which in turn crippled the Command Module (CM).
Limited power, a shortage of potable water, and loss of cabin heat were just some of the glaring problems that prevented the crew from landing on the lunar surface. In order to return to Earth safely, the support team (back at Houston) advised the team to pilot the shuttle into a free return trajectory, using the Moon’s gravity as a slingshot to return to Earth.
To achieve this, the shuttle passed over the far, or “dark” side of the Moon at an altitude of 254 kilometers (158 miles) from the lunar surface, making it the farthest that humans have ever traversed into the vast expanse of space. This landmark was attained on April 15, 1970 at 0:21 UTC. It has been more than 4 decades since that historic moment of 1970, and we haven’t been able to surpass that record yet.
However, with the American and Russian Moon trips in the planning stages and relatively near future, we can surely expect to go beyond the record set by Apollo 13. However, there’s a wait of a few more years for that to happen.
What’s the farthest humans have left their footprint in space?
In the previous section, you read about the farthest humans have actually traveled in space, but what’s the farthest in space that humans have left their mark?
Presently, Voyager 1, a man-made space probe launched by NASA in 1977, is the farthest ‘Earth-made’ thing in space. As of now, it has already crossed out of our solar system and continues to ramble further beyond into the unknown.
In fact, NASA confirmed (on September 12, 2013) that Voyager 1 had in fact entered the interstellar medium (Note: You can read about the exploits of the Voayger 1 in detail in this article).
If you want to get even more technical about humanity’s presence in space, you’d have to turn to the New Horizons spacecraft. It carries the ashes of Clyde William Tombaugh – the man who discovered Pluto. It has also crossed past Pluto and continues to sail beyond. So, in essence, Mr. Tombaugh is the man who has travelled the farthest from Earth.
In other words, if you are an explorer, love space and have a thing for science, now you know, more than ever, which career path you should choose… there’s still a lot of space out there to see!