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March 15, 2003

Pioneer 10 Signing Off

7 Billion Miles and 30 Years Out from Earth

A friend of mine in Florida who runs an auto repair shop does a steady business fitting new engines into older cars for something like $2,000 a time. It seems that a lot of people don't trust today's overpriced, over-elaborate computerized offerings and prefer to stay with the simpler, more solidly engineered designs of times gone by. Another friend tells me she won't buy toasters anymore because they don't last -- unless she finds an old one in a yard sale.

Pioneer 10, the unmanned space probe launched in 1972 to observe the outer planets, sent its last message back to NASA on January 22, which took 11 hours and 20 minutes to arrive. Originally designed for 21 months endurance, the probe ended up performing what has been described as one of the most scientifically rich exploration missions ever undertaken. It's amazing what can be done when engineering is left to engineers, without government bureaucrats and lawyers muscling in on it. Full story at News in Science. Thanks to Dave Schilling for sending me the link.

Providing it doesn't run into something else on the way, Pioneer 10's next encounter will be with the red giant star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, 2 million years from now.

 
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