NASA's Zombie Spacecraft Learns to Fire Its Engines, The Atlantic
"The quest to save the ISEE-3--a long-lost NASA probe launched in the disco era and abandoned in the dot-com boom--might just succeed. Late last week, the amateur scientists and engineers working to salvage the probe hit a major milestone: They coaxed the craft into firing its rotational thrusters."
"In the past month of working with the spacecraft, Cowing said they'd gotten used to its idiosyncrasies. ISEE-3 lacks an onboard computer, so commands must be fed to it one at a time. Cowing compared the process to rock-climbing: When it's time to move to the next outcrop, the movement has to happen quickly and definitively. "You just have to push through it and the data you get back isn't exactly what you want. As soon as it would take another command, you just rush through the next one and the next one," he said. "It's like telling an old dot-matrix printer from back in the day to do something."
In Effort to Shift Abandoned NASA Craft, a Hiccup (or Burp), New York Times
"The first part of the maneuver succeeded, a milestone in an effort to resurrect a zombie spacecraft that NASA abandoned 17 years ago. But then -- perhaps to be expected during work on a jalopy -- problems cropped up, and the thrusters failed to fire properly. Another attempt to complete the course correction will be made Wednesday. "I feel like it is taunting us sometimes," Keith Cowing, one of the leaders of the effort, said of the 36-year-old spacecraft, the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3, or ISEE-3. It is not NASA commanding the spacecraft now, but a group of civilians working in a former McDonald's in California taking advantage of technological goodies of the 21st century, including Skype, Twitter, laptop computers and crowdsourcing."
"Now, as of Tuesday, they've been sending commands for engine burns that will actually change the vehicle's course. "And the first burn went well, we thought," says Cowing, "and then it stopped and we got indications that the spacecraft had changed its speed, which is what you want." But the second attempt to fire the engines didn't go as smoothly. "It's a cranky old spacecraft that -- knock on wood -- does what we tell it to do most of the time," says Cowing. "We kind of knew we might be doing this over the course of a day or two, so this isn't surprising."
"An attempt to divert NASA's venerable International Earth/Sun Explorer (ISEE)-3 satellite back toward Earth was suspended due to technical issues early July 8, but the all-volunteer team seeking to resurrect the 1970's-era heliophysics mission expects to try again July 9."
After almost 30 years in a zombie-like state, NASA's International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 probe (a.k.a. ISEE-3), is back up and running thanks to a private team and its crowdfunding campaign. ISEE was retired in 1997 after it was launched into space in 1978. Its original purpose was to study how solar wind interacts with Earth's magnetic field, but in 1983 it was repurposed to take a closer look at two comets. It has been inactive since 1987, but with a little financial help, a group of volunteers changed that.
The last time ISEE-3 fired its engines, Madonna was moving up the charts, the stock market was booming and President Reagan was busily denying that he'd secretly sold weapons to Iran. After that final gasp from its thrusters, in February 1987, the International Sun-Earth Explorer probe would have drifted into permanent retirement -- if a $150,000 crowdfunded project hadn't come along to save it at the last minute.