The brilliance of the Voyager I and Voyager II missions stuck in the culture. The sister scientific instruments were launched into space and contributed to the vast majority of our knowledge of planets beyond the asteroid belt. These missions proved so popular they even contributed to the plots of Star Trek films. Yet many are unaware the missions continue to this day. More than forty-five years after they left Earth, Voyager I and II continue to make discoveries. Director Billy Miossi discovers the power of a few engineers and scientists coming together to finish their mission. It’s Quieter in the Twilight shines a light on the importance of creating and preserving institutional knowledge.
In a small office off the NASA campus in California, the Voyager team continues to work hard. While Voyager does not represent the priority for the space agency today, the data these instruments collected fundamentally changed our understanding of the universe. Decades later, the Voyager project continues to surprise and deliver meaningful scientific breakthroughs. It’s Quieter in the Twilight not only celebrates this project but also shines a light on the lifelong contributions of the Voyager team.
Miossi faces a time crunch as he begins to document the team. In mere months, the only deep space satellite that can communicate with Voyager II is getting refurbished. While it’s down, the team cannot issue any new commands to the vessel. Miossi lays out the stakes well, and throughout It’s Quieter in the Twilight, we watch the team overcome obstacles. However, no matter how many unique and clever ways they keep the Voyagers functional, time and depleted energy will eventually end the mission.
It’s impossible to ignore time in the context of this story. The reason so many are unaware of the ongoing mission of the Voyagers is entirely related to their extended lifespan. After all, Mars Rovers and other ships rarely survive longer than a couple of decades. Most of the engineers and scientists keeping the Voyager Project alive have worked on it for decades. In one case, the scientist grew up and pursued his career because of Voyager. There’s a melancholy in the way we process time.
Yet It’s Quieter in the Twilight does not portray the passage of time in bleak terms. Instead, it celebrates the knowledge gained and retained. These are experts on these vessels and will have forgotten more about the Voyagers than anyone else will ever know. As the team approaches COVID in March of 2020, their power and knowledge become even more valuable. Yet the questions about how to retain and capture this knowledge become urgent.
The portraits and traits of those working on The Voyager missions are where It’s Quieter delivers the most interesting moments. We get an extraordinary level of access to what should feel more secretive. Instead, the offices feel like every other office space in the world. If anything, the wood paneling and fluorescent lights feel pulled out of 1985. The humble location and the importance of the mission feel like they’re in direct opposition.
Yet the crew overseeing the mission comes from a diverse background. Not only are they from around the world, but many immigrated to America specifically to work for this project. Yet with decades on the project, their story represents a traditional American experience. Even so, their contributions appear downplayed in the context of NASA’s history. Through Miossi’s lens, their seemingly innocuous work can be lionized.
It’s Quieter in the Twilight showcases the unique and mostly unknown side of NASA. The bureaucracy and processes that keep the organization running may not always make headline news. Yet the research and the breakthroughs they create will help shape future space research for decades. The Voyager project continues to operate to this day, yet It’s Quieter in the Twilight provides a far more introspective vision of the project than we will get when it concludes.