After 30 Years, Pioneer Spacecraft Still Kicking

Pioneer 10, which was launched 30 years ago, carries a gold plaque engraved a map indicating Earth's location in the solar system, along with a message of goodwill. Here is the plaque:

 

 

After 30 Years, Pioneer Spacecraft Still Kicking
 

By SPACE.com Staff
posted: 05:46 pm ET
04 March 2002

 

On Saturday, exactly 30 years after launch, NASA sent a signal to the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, which has not been heard from in more than 7 months. The robot is 7.4 billion miles away, nearly at the edge of the solar system.

 

Within a day, the spacecraft phoned home, NASA officials said today.

 

"We are overjoyed that we still have the spacecraft," said Robert Hogan, chief of NASA Ames Research Center's Space Projects Division, where the Pioneer project is managed.

 

Engineers hailed the feat as a mark of good design.

 

"As an eternal optimist, I was confident it would succeed," said Pioneer 10 Project Manager Larry Lasher. "Pioneer 10 has been discounted in the past, but somehow it always manages to land on it feet."

 

Scientists at NASA's Deep Space Network sent the signal from a dish in Goldstone, Calif., and received a return signal at a facility in Madrid, Spain. In April 2001, engineers made contact with Pioneer after eight months of silence. They last communicated in July 2002.

 

In 1983, Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to go beyond the orbit of Pluto. It was also the first craft to fly through the asteroid belt and make close-up photos of Jupiter.

 

The probe is now so far away it took roughly 22 hours for the radio signal to make the round trip.

 

Eventually, Pioneer could provide clues about what goes on at the boundary of the solar system, a region called the heliosphere. After that, it would be a long time before the craft would encounter much else. Scientists said it will pass the nearest star in about two million years.

 

Pioneer 10 carries a gold plaque engraved a map indicating Earth's location in the solar system, along with a message of goodwill.