Last week something really cool happened in space. A spacecraft has been flying through space for the last 17 years with no contact from NASA was contacted and is now being used to conduct science. Originally launched in 1978, the International Cometary Explorer (ISEE-3) has traveled to comets, explored the sun, and more. It carries on-board several different sensors and instruments used to gather observations.
The spacecraft was brought to my attention by xkcd 1337. I discovered at that time that people were trying to reconnect with the spacecraft, but it seemed pretty helpless. They didn’t have the equipment or the codes to control the craft, and only a few months to put it together.
I was very wrong to be skeptical. Through a crowd-funding effort, money was raised to get the code written, and to get time at the Aricebo telescope, which was one of the few places on earth that would be capable of communicating with ISEE-3.
Last week, the team announced that they were successful, and that they were now in command of the spacecraft.
This blows my mind. The spacecraft was launched five years before I was born. We sent it all over the solar system. We forgot hot to talk to it, but left it on, and it was still chugging along. A group of people got together, figured out how to talk about it again, commandeered the largest satellite dish in the world, and is going to send it off again to do more science.
It’s a testament to both the brilliance of the initial engineering and the team behind it now. Congratulations to them both.