LOS ANGELES – NASA's Voyager 1 probe has left the solar system, boldly going where no machine has gone before.
Thirty-six years after it rocketed away from Earth, the plutonium-powered spacecraft has escaped the sun's influence and is now cruising 11 1/2 billion miles away in interstellar space, or the vast, cold emptiness between the stars, NASA said Thursday.
And just in case it encounters intelligent life out there, it is carrying a gold-plated, 1970s-era phonograph record with multicultural greetings from Earth, photos and songs, including Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," along with Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Louis Armstrong.
Never before has a man-made object left the solar system as it is commonly understood.
"We made it," said an ecstatic Ed Stone, the mission's chief scientist, who waited decades for this moment.
NASA celebrated by playing the "Star Trek" theme at a news conference in Washington.
Voyager 1 actually made its exit more than a year ago, scientists said. But since there's no "Welcome to Interstellar Space" sign out there, NASA waited for more evidence before concluding that the probe had in fact broken out of the hot plasma bubble surrounding the planets.
Voyager 1, which is about the size of a small car, is drifting in a part of the universe littered with the remnants of ancient star explosions.