Pioneer 10 finally gives it up for good.
February 25, 2003 10:41 PM   Subscribe

Pioneer 10 space probe finally packs it in for good. So long, little fella...
posted by 40 Watt (27 comments total)
Wow. I'm actually a little teary-eyed. Pioneer's voyage has fired my imagination for most of my life. Thanks for posting this.
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:48 PM on February 25, 2003

Can't wait for the galactic space battle waged between PEER and VGER in a couple thousand years. We need to shoot more things into space so there will be enough hot bald slave babes to go around when the time comes. mmm... hot bald slave babes...
posted by Stan Chin at 10:54 PM on February 25, 2003

Pioneer Plaque.
posted by y2karl at 11:10 PM on February 25, 2003


posted by adamgreenfield at 11:16 PM on February 25, 2003

They just don't build 'em like they used to. That little squirt lasted 10x longer than it was expected to.

These days, we can't even get a shuttle that makes past its extended warranty. I'll bet the international space station doesn't last thirty-one years.

posted by five fresh fish at 11:19 PM on February 25, 2003

We need to get Stan laid. He's trying to apply a Star Trek solution to a Babylon 5 problem.
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:27 PM on February 25, 2003

heading generally for the red star Aldebaran

"Aldebaran is a peaceful planet red star. We have no weapons..."
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:58 PM on February 25, 2003

Two million years from now, a fast-moving oblong craft scuttling about Aldebaran encounters a cute little satellite, barely held together by corroded metal.

"Must be a trace of those earthlings who blew up that small blue and green planet to bits long ago."

"Well, at least the smart ones got away."

"Yeah, but you had to admire the ingenuity of their ancestors. They kept tracking this little bugger. And they had the decency to leave a message far easier to understand than those windy op-ed columns arguing about the interplanetary war."
posted by ed at 12:01 AM on February 26, 2003

I, personally, don't feel the need to get Stan laid.

That being said . . . I wish Carl Sagan were alive to say something appropriate. I miss the kooky 60s-70s and their krazy space ambitions. What lofty goals are we aiming for now? To rescue some poor suckers from a decaying space station? Depressing.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 12:02 AM on February 26, 2003

Comparing Pioneer 10 to the Space Shuttle is like comparing a kitchen sink to a sewage treatment plant.

Keeping a solid-state probe alive after it has completed its science objectives is easy. Your batteries will die eventually, as well as your gyroscopes, but with proper engineering you should be able to maintain safe-mode comms with just the real-time power from the arrays. Until you blow a cap or lose an IC on a critical board, or you have to fire thrusters to change orientation, it's as easy as can be. Depending on your configuration, you might have some other critical systems, but again, with proper failsafe engineering a solid-state probe should be able to last very long.

A space shuttle does massively more stuff than a probe and is subject to that much more wear. Now, the usual argument from the layman here is that a probe delivers much more useful data, but guess what systems we will need to launch future probes that will pave way for real spaceships? Those based on the space shuttle.
posted by azazello at 12:08 AM on February 26, 2003

*reads, re-reads azazello's second paragraph, crosses eyes*
posted by y2karl at 12:16 AM on February 26, 2003

y2karl: The man on the plaque. Do you think he's waving hello or goodbye? What if that particular arm gesture translates into 'we will be invading your planet next week.' in space alien. We are so effed.
posted by Zoyd Wheeler at 12:25 AM on February 26, 2003

Someday an alien tow truck is going to drag Pioneer 10 onto NASA's front lawn and hand someone a ticket for space littering. "Thanks for putting directions on your junk, hu-man."
posted by RylandDotNet at 12:36 AM on February 26, 2003

When my brother worked at Ampex he heard the tales of making the systems to receive signals from a lot of these early deep space probes. I seems that the ability of the probes to compress data and shove signals out in an extremely short amount of time was much better than our ability to catch signals coming in at such rates. But, the developers had faith, and built these probes with the ability to blast signals at ridiculous rates anyway, if needed.

So, it turns out that when the deep space probes ended up out a gajillion kilometers from the sun, and their solar cells were recharging the batteries at a ridiculously slow rate, they could still communicate with the probes if they could save up their data in memory, wait for the charge to build up, then hotfoot the data out in like a 9 second blast of ultra-compressed millisecond differentiated radio signals, and all we had to do was come up with some way to catch it.

Well, at Ampex they were developing these high speed tape drives, and the more they could record of the signals the more of the data they would be able to capture. So Ampex had this development squad that eventually came up with these tape drives that ran like a mile of recording tape through in like 10 seconds. I mean big, howling, mechanical recording devices. And they would heat these monsters up, wait for the time for the signals were due to arrive, line up 2 or 3 miles of tape, and start flinging tape.

And a lot of the time, as the deafening whine of the drive died down, they would find out they actually did catch something.

Of course this technology was used for other things, and as such, even though tape has usually been replaced by digital formats, I still think of the all the early deep space probes every time I am laying on the couch on a Saturday afternoon, with a beer on my belly, watching a baseball game, and they show a replay using super slow-motion, which was a direct spin off of those big, mechanical Ampex tape godzillas that used to sit at JPL.

And now you know...... the rest of the story.
posted by dglynn at 1:01 AM on February 26, 2003

So long Cosmos. So long.
posted by crasspastor at 1:15 AM on February 26, 2003

Sorry y2karl.
posted by crasspastor at 1:17 AM on February 26, 2003

Your batteries will die eventually, as well as your gyroscopes, but with proper engineering you should be able to maintain safe-mode comms with just the real-time power from the arrays.

Pioneer, IIRC, has no gyroscopes (I think it's spin-stabilized) and it has RTGs, rather than batteries. And it's too far from the sun to get useful energy from solar arrays.

Now, the usual argument from the layman here is that a probe delivers much more useful data...

It's the argument from many non-laymen, too.

but guess what systems we will need to launch future probes that will pave way for real spaceships? Those based on the space shuttle.


Rocket, Payload to LEO(tonnes), cost per launch
Proton, ~20, $50 million
Energiya, ~95, $150 million (?)
Shuttle, ~23, $400 million.

How does the shuttle make sense as a launcher at all?
posted by ptermit at 5:32 AM on February 26, 2003

Cool story, dglynn, thanks!
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:59 AM on February 26, 2003

What lofty goals are we aiming for now?

That's a question that should be asked by more people. NASA's approach since the moon program ended seems a bit aimless - a 'let's build it and see what we can do with it' approach. I don't discount the advances brought by the ovewhelmingly successful shuttle program, but I think we need a truly ambitious goal to achieve something more significant than a what has become a glorified courier service to local orbit.
posted by holycola at 7:44 AM on February 26, 2003

That plaque is such a wild (and strangely tear-inducing) mix of high-tech, hydrogen-atom stuff and utter simplicity - the arrow from Earth to the spacecraft saying THIS IS WHERE THIS CAME FROM.

Even cooler - the Voyager Interstellar Record (song list).
posted by gottabefunky at 7:50 AM on February 26, 2003

"Johnny B. Goode" was the "modern" song they chose for the record? That so kicks ass.

Is there any place where just the musical selection is available on CD? Or even better, a DVD for the music AND images?
posted by grum@work at 9:07 AM on February 26, 2003

What adamgreenfield said.

posted by Fezboy! at 9:20 AM on February 26, 2003

So long lil buddy. Thanks for the information.
posted by riffola at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2003

thanks for posting this, 40 Watt, though it makes me sad. i remember looking at the plaque diagram as a kid and thinking it was so cool and it seems poignantly optimistic. the Voyager record is even more heart-wrenching -- this picture may be cheesy, but it also puts the current grim state of global affairs into some sharp it too late to move to the moon?

on less of a down note, how about (benevolently) hijacking the thread for current musical suggestions for future space records? i hate to say it, but i bet Eminem would make it on this time around...i personally would vote for Angelique Kidjo, Bruce Springsteen, The White Stripes, YoYo Ma playing the Beethoven solo cello concertos, and Fatboy Slim.
posted by serafinapekkala at 10:20 AM on February 26, 2003

So long and thanks for all the pics...
posted by Scottk at 11:12 AM on February 26, 2003

I, too, got a little choked up when I heard that Pioneer 10 has left us for good after 30 years of beeping. That it has traveled for 30 years and has only reached a distance of 11 light hours sort of brings the enormity of the galaxy into focus.

I'm very impressed with the musical selection on Voyager, I think a CD with the complete recording would be terrific.

That plaque is a deeply poetic thing, full of hope and optimism. Humanity's message in a bottle.

The future of space is so unclear. It's true, we need a vision. Mars? Huge problems still need to be overcome before we could venture to mars. Bone and mass wasting starts to take a serious toll after 6 months of zero G and a mars shot might take as long as 4 years, there and back. And how about Gamma rays that plow right through a spaceship. Also, do we just give up the hope of rescue alltogether? No, I think our energies are better spent on the earthly pursuits that might yet save our species. When we solve the problems of energy and pollution, perhaps the heavens will open wide before us as well.
posted by pejamo at 11:22 AM on February 26, 2003


Proton is excellent for most satellites. It is not so good for space exploration. Energiya is dead, and the RSA does not plan a booster of its size in the near future. (They don't plan much at all except small satellites and even smaller probes right now, since they're out of money.)

Future spacecraft WILL use reusable planetary ascent/descent vehicles that will function a lot like the Shuttle. They will eventually be SSTO, and might use new kinds of propulsion, but rest assured that all experience amassed with the STS will be useful when designing it.

The STS must be replaced, but not (or not only) with dumb rockets. They may seem the better choice now, when our first generation attempt at a reusable space vehicle is having problems, but they are but an intermediate measure. Experience with reusable manned vehicles that have to endure numerous ascents/reentries is just as important for future space exploration as boosting high amounts of fully automatic cargo to LEO.

As for the low cost of Russian boosters, don't kid yourself: equivalent configurations will cost almost an order of magnitude more in the US, and as Russian economy slowly rises out of the crapper and rebuilds its gibbed space industry to develop new vehicles, it will begin to cost much more to them too.

I'm not saying that STS should be kept. I'm saying that we must build truly reusable, SSTO spacecraft, not just dumb boosters. There's no way around it, so better do it sooner than later.
posted by azazello at 11:59 AM on February 26, 2003

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