Asked if the goal was to resume science or just prove that it could be done, Cowing said "it's both." "Why not try it? We told people up front it's iffy, and we've gotten over $150,000 now from people and they knew exactly what the risk was. And, it's cool. The factor that's motivated a lot of people is 'why not?'" As for the potential science, "we're going to do our best to make sure whatever comes back from that spacecraft is on line as fast as we can get it online, that it's open to anyone."
But why bother rebooting a decades-old satellite? Cowing said a big part of the answer is, "because we can. It's cool." Besides, he said, "the spacecraft has a lot of its original science capability. It can provide data that is actually useful." Princeton mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Jeremy Kasdin suggested a better question might be: "Why not?" Sure, a modern satellite could perhaps do the job better. "But it's not like we're going to turn around and build a satellite that's much more capable," because NASA is working on different priorities, said Kasdin, who is not affiliated with this project. Nor can NASA itself afford to keep all its old projects operational. "So if there's an opportunity that comes along" to find another way to fund an older mission, "that's always better than not. It's data as opposed to no data."
If there was any doubt about whether modern Americans were still enamored with space, the results of their crowdfunding campaign squash it. The group blew through their $100,000 goal, and are currently getting close to a $150,000 stretch goal. There are only two days left to donate--and you should--but the fact that they've raised so much money in so short a time is remarkable.
NASA felt it had gotten its money's worth out of the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 mission back in the 1980s. Its last scientific mission ended in 1997, and contact was suspended in 1998. But time and a fortuitous orbit mean that ISEE-3 is now catching up with Earth and will make a close pass this summer. When we first noted this story last year, some enthusiasts were suggesting that the probe should be revived and returned to scientific duty, but the perpetually tight budgets at NASA made that outcome unlikely. Yesterday, NASA announced that it found a solution: it would hand the keys to the probe over to those enthusiasts.
For the first time ever, NASA has agreed to allow a group of citizen scientists to contact and try to take control of a '70s-era spacecraft that has been moving through its orbit with no scientific purpose since 1997, the agency announced Wednesday.
"Mission control would be from an abandoned McDonald's at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, says Keith Cowing, a co-director of the project and the editor of the website NASA Watch. Cowing says that the project shows how there can still be value left in projects that NASA deems worthy of discarding. "They left gas in the gas tank and the keys in the ignition," he says. NASA is not paying for any part of the project, and the group has crowd-funded its effort. By 23 May, the project had raised more than $150,000. Cowing says that the money pays for radio transmission equipment, rental time on radio telescope networks to track the spacecraft, and travel for team members."
Before ISEE-3 Reboot, the pair operated the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, a highly successful effort to recover lost photographs from 1960s lunar satellites. This experience, as well as their NASA connections, served them well: they were able to collect reference material from some of the original mission team. "Typically, after 30 or 40 years, your wife says, 'Why don't you throw that crap out?' And you keep saying 'It'll be important someday!' Well, it was," Cowing says. "They kept many of the documents that were required to tell the spacecraft what to do, because a lot of them knew that it was coming back to Earth in 2014."
ISEE-3 Recovery Is Go: Nasa Lets Skycorp Reboot Zombie 1970s Space Craft, Huffington Post UK
The International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE3) spacecraft was launched in 1978 in order to study the solar wind. It finished its primary mission in 1981 and was then redirected to study two comets, which it did successfully. After that, though, Nasa was finished and the spacecraft was left to drift around the Sun and fill its time in whatever way it saw fit. The mission was eventually shut down in 1997. But in 2008 the international Deep Space Network managed to make contact with the craft and found it was still in working order. Now, it's back. The spacecraft is set to make its closest approach to Earth in years in August, and a group of enthusiasts has been campaigning for Nasa to let it communicate with the craft - and potentially send it on a new mission.
Despite capturing the hearts and minds of geeks everywhere (as well as endorsements from astrophysicist and national treasure Neil deGrasse Tyson), NASA is poor. That means it doesn't have the cash to take on really cool and worthwhile projects like reclaiming an old satellite that had been abandoned since 1997. The space agency does, however, have enough resources to hire a group of private citizen scientists to do the job for them.
As for what's next, Cowing told Motherboard's Ben Richmond: "Sending it a tone, and if the spacecraft responds with that tone, then we know at that basic level that the spacecraft can send and receive information. If we can't get that, it's game over. But after that we'll repeat that a number of times and get more complex so we make sure we have that worked out." They'll also need to figure out how to use new tech to talk to old tech. "It has a processor, which is hardwired to do certain things," Cowing told Richmond. "It doesn't remember anything. You just tell to do a task and that's it. Your toaster is smarter than this thing."
Crowd-funded attempt to rescue abandoned 70s probe, New Zealand Herald
It's plunging back through space, but also back through time, and a band of veteran scientists are determined to save it: a lonely satellite from the age of disco, floating homewards without a mission. The International Sun-Earth Explorer, or ISEE-3, was built in 1978 to study the physics of solar winds. In 1981, the spacecraft was sent off on a new mission on a wide orbit in search of comets, and now it is flying blind and Nasa has written it off as dead. But, as it nears Earth once more, some scientists want to return it to its original job, including Robert Farquhar, now in his 80s, who was responsible for hijacking it in the first place.