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Review: A True-Life Journey Into Interstellar Space in ‘The Farthest’


Voyager 2 at Cape Kennedy in 1977, as seen in “The Farthest.”


For any believer in humankind’s instinct to transcend boundaries, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes, and the NASA team that produced them, inspire awe. “The Farthest,” a dazzling documentary written and directed by Emer Reynolds, illustrates why.

Consider: In 1977, the pair were launched (two, to increase the odds of success); in 1979 Voyager 1 began relaying information from Jupiter, and in 1980 approached Saturn and its moon Titan, nearly a billion miles from Earth. In 1986, Voyager 2 reached Uranus, and three years later Neptune. In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to exit our solar system and enter interstellar space, from which it still sends signals. (Voyager 2 is en route.)

The accounts of scientists, whose enthusiasm still glows, is as wondrous as the technology seen here. Linda Morabito, a navigation engineer, recalls discovering gas plumes on Jupiter’s moon Io. “I had the first evidence of active volcanism beyond Earth,” she says, beaming. Time-lapse Voyager-eye views of planets as they get nearer convey a sense of the epiphanies experienced in mission control.

And there is catnip for dreamers, in the form of the so-called golden record enclosed on both vessels. “A message in a bottle into the ocean,” says Jim Bell, author of “The Interstellar Age” — and to alien life-forms that might find it. Each disc (complete with instructions) includes, among other things, photos; diagrams; greetings in 53 languages; 27 pieces of music from different cultures, including “Johnny B. Goode”; and the song of a humpback whale.

“We did something really, really great,” Brad Smith, an imaging specialist, says of the 40-year adventure. Yes, and NASA, and Ms. Reynolds, deserve to take a very deep bow.

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