The 1970s Spacecraft Is Doing Science Again!

Illustration for article titled The 1970s Spacecraft Is Doing Science Again!

The 36-year-old ISEE-3 is back collecting shiny new science! ...but our efforts to bring it home are for nought. Instead, our first crowd funded, crowd source citizen science space mission will be on a heliocentric orbit. Ah well, that's still pretty amazing!

Just a few months ago, the ISEE-3 spacecraft was a chunk of derelict junk sneaking up on our orbit. Now, thanks to a crowd funded engineering effort, we can talk to it again. After just a few month's effort, the craft is powered back up with functional science instruments, already sending home more data.


The citizen science team wanted to execute burns to drop the craft back in its 1978 orbit, but the spacecraft disagreed. The original hope was to execute burns to blaze past the moon and drop the spacecraft puttering about in a L-1 halo orbit. Alas, although ISEE-3 had enough juice to do a power-up spin to reach its optimal rotation rate, the nitrogen propellant has bled away. The aging craft is willing, but after 30 billion miles, it just doesn't have enough gas to change its trajectory. Instead, it'll do a lunar flyby, and resume its heliocentric orbit, this time blazing a trail ahead of us instead of stalking the Earth.

But here's the thing: this time, it'll be doing science.

The team has already started shutting down propulsion and other systems that aren't necessary now the craft won't be doing daring burns and radical trajectory changes. Instead, that power will go towards maximizing science operations. But the really key bit is that the reboot team has spent the last few weeks recreating the hardware, software, and documentation to replace the originals discarded decades ago. This time, not only will ISEE-3 be doing science, but we'll be listening.

The "ISEE-3 Interplanetary Citizen Science Mission" officially kicks off on August 10, 2014 with the lunar flyby. The reboot team is working to stream all the data to the public, opening it up to citizen scientists anywhere.

This is incredible. After putting out the call to reclaim this venerable science craft, 2,238 donors invested $159,602 to help ISEE-3 do science again. Under the guidance of the reboot team co-leads Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing,a veritable slew of scientists and engineers donated their time, experience, and knowledgeto take that funding and make revitalizing ISEE-3 a reality. This went from a crazy idea to the first ever crowd funded, crowd sourced, interplanetary citizen science space mission.


Welcome back, ISEE-3. Does it feel good to be back to work after our long silence?


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"this time, it'll be doing science."

As opposed to the previous times when it was doing...?