Zombie spacecraft and geeks

Larry read me a full article yesterday from the NY Times about a bunch of space enthusiasts who are attempting to contact and reawaken a spacecraft abandoned by NASA 17 years ago.

ZOMBIE-master675The  International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) was launched in 1978 and used to measure solar wind. NASA “retired” this ship in 1997, and just left it out there, dismantling the transmitters that communicated with it. Now three million miles away, it’s heading back towards the Earth, and next month will pass close to our moon.

“A shoestring group of civilians headquartered in a decommissioned McDonald’s have reached out and made contact with it — a long-distance handshake that was the first step toward snaring it back into Earth’s orbit.” The team hopes to shift the course of the craft so that the pull of the moon’s gravity will sling it into orbit around the earth where it may possibly have a new mission.

Here’s the McDonald’s that used to serve the Navy’s Moffett air station and that now serves as the group’s Mission Control: JP-ZOMBIE-2-articleLarge

The group raised nearly $160,000 through crowdfunding and reestablished communications in May with the assistance of NASA’s Deep Space Network of radio telescopes. So far, they’ve gotten the thrusters to fire once, but since then, “perhaps to be expected when working on a jalopy,” there have been a few glitches.

In a more detailed article, Mr. Chang notes: “For 17 years, it has been drifting on a lonely course through space. Launched during the disco era and shuttered by NASA in 1997, the spacecraft is now returning to the civilization that abandoned it…No one has the full operating manual anymore, and the fragments are sometimes contradictory.

‘We call ourselves techno-archaeologists,’ said Dennis Wingo, an engineer and entrepreneur who has a track record of extracting miracles from space antiques that NASA has given up on.”

Yay for enterprising geeks, I say. It’s crazy projects like this that give me hope for the future.

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