In the summer of 1977, “Star Wars” wasn’t the only amazing thing to happen in space. It was also when NASA launched the legendary Voyager I and Voyager II, two spacecraft designed to travel the solar system and collect data to send back to Earth.

And if it were not for University of Utah mechanical engineering alumnus Gary Flandro, those space probes would not have gone as far or as quickly as they have.

Flandro, a parttime researcher in the mid-1960s with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was tasked with figuring out the best way to send a probe to Jupiter and perhaps further. He came up with an interesting idea: He learned that the orbital paths of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune would be align in the late 1970s and early 1980s in such a way that a probe could be slung from the gravitational pull of one planet to the next, cutting its travel time significantly.

Nearly 45 years later, Voyager I and Voyager II, which have reached beyond the edges of our solar system thanks to Flandro’s revolutionary idea, NASA is about to shut down some of the probes’ instruments after gathering decades of useful data.

Scientific American recently chronicled the probes’ important missions and how Flandro, who received his bachelor’s from the U in 1957, made their spaceflights possible.

Click here to read his amazing story.