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Pioneer 10 spacecraft sends last signal

Topics: 
Astronomy

The Pioneer 10 spacecraft has sent its last signal to Earth. Pioneer's last, very weak signal was
received on Jan. 22, 2003. NASA engineers report Pioneer 10's
radioisotope power source has decayed, and it may not have enough power to send additional transmissions to Earth.

"Originally designed for a 21-month mission, Pioneer 10 lasted more than 30 years. It was a workhorse that far exceeded its warranty, and I guess you could say we got our money's worth," said Pioneer 10 Project Manager, Dr. Larry Lasher.

Pioneer 10 was launched March 2, 1972 for a flight to Jupiter, making it the fastest human-made object to leave the Earth; fast enough to pass the moon in 11 hours and to cross Mars' orbit, about 50 million miles away, in just 12 weeks. Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to pass through the asteroid belt, considered a spectacular achievement, and then headed toward Jupiter. In 1983, Pioneer 10 became the first human-made object to pass the orbit of Pluto, the most distant planet from the Sun.

Following its encounter with Jupiter, Pioneer 10 explored the outer regions of the solar system, studying energetic particles from the Sun (solar wind), and cosmic rays entering our portion of the Milky Way. The spacecraft continued to make valuable scientific investigations in the outer regions of the solar system until its science mission ended March 31, 1997.

Pioneer carries human greetings in the form of a gold anodized plaque with symbolic drawings, an attemp of the NASA engineers to send out a
human greeting card into outer space. Carl Sagan designed the plaque to be universally (in the truest sense) comprehensible, at least to any civilization sufficiently advanced to capture it. However, it will probably be mankind itself which will bring the spacecraft home, as we probably will encounter Pioneer in the future during high speed space
travel.