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Civilians Try to Lure an Abandoned NASA Spacecraft Back to Earth

timothy posted about 2 months ago | from the tractor-beams-are-the-missing-link dept.

Space 53

A New York Times piece (as carried by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) outlines a fascinating project operating in unlikely circumstances for a quixotic goal. They want to control, and return to earth, the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3, launched in 1978 but which "appears to be in good working order." Engineer Dennis Wingo, along with like minded folks (of whom he says "We call ourselves techno-archaeologists") has established a business called Skycorp that "has its offices in the McDonald's that used to serve the Navy's Moffett air station, 15 minutes northwest of San Jose, Calif. After the base closed, NASA converted it to a research campus for small technology companies, academia and nonprofits. ... The race to revive the craft, ISEE-3, began in earnest in April. At the end of May, using the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico, the team succeeded in talking to the spacecraft, a moment Mr. Wingo described as "way cool." This made Skycorp the first private organization to command a spacecraft outside Earth orbit, he said. The most disheartening part: "No one has the full operating manual anymore, and the fragments are sometimes contradictory." The most exciting? "Despite the obstacles, progress has been steady, and Mr. Wingo said the team should be ready to fire the engines within weeks."

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Duh (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47241935)

This is old news to Slashdot readers. See http://tech.slashdot.org/index2.pl?fhfilter=ISEE+3

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47241979)

This is a Timothy update. 'Duh' is his middle name.

Re:Duh (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 months ago | (#47243143)

I know how they do this!

First, get a bald chick from India, and that fat drunk girl, who replaced the annoying blonde on "Cheers"...

Then, amplify the sound of a garage-door spring being struck by a rubber mallet. It helps if you have an octave pedal, to shift this down.

You can take the rest from here.

Re:Duh (2)

operagost (62405) | about 2 months ago | (#47245601)

Don't forget the crotchety country doctor wearing a big disco medallion.

Re:Duh (2)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 months ago | (#47246895)

It WAS 1979....

summary is not accurate (4, Informative)

ganjadude (952775) | about 2 months ago | (#47241939)

The team is not trying to bring the craft back to earth as in re entry as would be assumed by the summary, but they are trying to re pourpos the craft. The craft in question has already been re purposed at least one time in the past. This is the only time it will be close enough to take it back and put it in an orbit that will make it useful again. Im pretty sure we had an article about that here on /. a few months ago

Re:summary is not accurate (4, Interesting)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 2 months ago | (#47242017)

what are the legal relationships here, I wonder? does this still belong to NASA? or has it been discarded/written off? what if civilians (or military) in China tried to do the same thing, is it fair game?

Re:summary is not accurate (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47242173)

I believe that NASA has at least given permission to these guys to take control of the spacecraft if they can figure out how. Not entirely sure if ownership has been transferred.

Re:summary is not accurate (3, Informative)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 2 months ago | (#47242251)

NASA has given the approval to communicate and control it, so there's a partnership there (and probably a lot of goodwill to, since NASA isn't doing this because they couldn't find the funding for the project).

It would be a diplomatic incident if China did it without seeking approval, but again, it's unlikely anyone would care if it wasn't active disruption.

Re:summary is not accurate (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 2 months ago | (#47243799)

It would be a diplomatic incident if China did it without seeking approval

China probably doesn't have the right password.

Re:summary is not accurate (2)

repvik (96666) | about 2 months ago | (#47244111)

"swordfish"

Re:summary is not accurate (2)

BitZtream (692029) | about 2 months ago | (#47244627)

Its all analog, from 1978, there is no security what so ever other than knowing how to send it commands and what commands.

Theres no CPU in it.

Re:summary is not accurate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47246173)

China probably doesn't know the commands.

My grandfather worked on weather satellites in that era and he went to the dentist with an armed guard in case they put him under the gas and he started talking (the bullet was for him not the dentist). While chances are no one cares any more, the secrets being a big deal at the time and now obsolete it's unlikely that a foreign power could put them together without a lot of effort.

NASA and the project collaborating with NASA have the advantage of being able to pull the original specs and operators manual and they still had to piece together how to actually do it. A foreign power (working without the cooperation of NASA or the project in the article) would have to figure it out with whatever records they have from their espionage programs at the time which may well be full of misinformation and probably was more generic and not about this particular spacecraft 9they would have been interested in spy satellites not deep space probes).

Re:summary is not accurate (1)

cwsumner (1303261) | about 2 months ago | (#47248155)

Its all analog, from 1978, there is no security what so ever other than knowing how to send it commands and what commands.

Theres no CPU in it.

It's not all analog. It has a processor, just not what you would call a CPU.
P.S., I had a home computer in 1978, the world was not all analog.

they're all terrorists! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47241985)

How dare they try to use space junk?!

Re:they're all terrorists! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47242125)

Thanks for your input. I guess...

Re:they're all terrorists! (3, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 months ago | (#47242201)

Especially US space junk. For free, one may add!

Letting others use for free what you throw away... how Un-American!

Re:they're all terrorists! (2)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 2 months ago | (#47242409)

Except.... NASA is allowing it, so Im not really clear what yalls point is.

Re:they're all terrorists! (4, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 months ago | (#47243067)

NASA is giving something away? For free?

THOSE COMMIES!

Hack (3, Funny)

ocean_soul (1019086) | about 2 months ago | (#47242091)

Someone read to much xkcd [xkcd.com] , I see.

Re:Hack (1)

kasperd (592156) | about 2 months ago | (#47244327)

Its mission ended in 1997 and it was sent a shutdown signal.

What's the purpose of sending a shutdown signal to an abandoned probe? If it is abandoned, does it matter if you shut it down or not?

Re:Hack (2)

Taed (752514) | about 2 months ago | (#47246809)

What's the purpose of sending a shutdown signal to an abandoned probe? If it is abandoned, does it matter if you shut it down or not?

You have to do a clean shutdown or the memory isn't freed. If the probe were destroyed, that would be memory which could never, ever be allocated by anyone ever again.

It really starts to add up. A few thousand probes and you're talking hundreds of kilobytes.

Re:Hack (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47249455)

A few thousand probes and you're talking hundreds of kilobytes.

It all makes sense now.

Re:Hack (1)

toddestan (632714) | about 2 months ago | (#47250649)

Perhaps to keep it from transmitting and interfering with radio astronomy?

Hey - a little red paint, some crash test dummies (2)

jpellino (202698) | about 2 months ago | (#47242137)

... it could make a nice chunk of bait for Reavers... jus' sayin'

Re:Hey - a little red paint, some crash test dummi (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | about 2 months ago | (#47242451)

What did the Sun Explorer say when it was revived?

"O, Shiny!" : )

Re:Hey - a little red paint, some crash test dummi (1)

TangoMargarine (1617195) | about 2 months ago | (#47247069)

You would want to attract Reavers because...?

Re:Hey - a little red paint, some crash test dummi (1)

Fishchip (1203964) | about 2 months ago | (#47247941)

Because that's how we're going to deal with the Ukrainian crisis.

1997 wasn't the age of disco (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47242175)

1997 was the age of glam rock and heavy metal, also rap was begining to make an impact, also plenty of electronic pop.

Re:1997 wasn't the age of disco (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47242357)

1997 was the age of glam rock and heavy metal, also rap was begining to make an impact, also plenty of electronic pop.

WTF? Glam rock was a 1970's phenomenon, heavy metal from about then too. And rap made its big impacts from the 1980's. What are you smoking?

paywalled article, not the current state (4, Insightful)

nietsch (112711) | about 2 months ago | (#47242221)

Contact has already been made, this has been reported before and the article is 'continued' on a paywalled site.
Is this again the fault of that badly functioning firehose thingy, or some ill informed editor?

here is a much better informative link (5, Informative)

nietsch (112711) | about 2 months ago | (#47242235)

http://spacecollege.org/isee3/ [spacecollege.org]

Salvage or Space Looting (2)

dfn5 (524972) | about 2 months ago | (#47242223)

Either way, I reckon they should be quick about it before the Alliance shows up.

Lure? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47242337)

They're going to "lure" it back?
Can anyone explain how they plan to lure a spacecraft, or is this some sort of confusion caused by using google translate?

Re:Lure? (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 months ago | (#47244095)

It's called "hyperbole."

Also see "anthropomorphism."

Fun hack for nerds (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 months ago | (#47242641)

Contacting the spacecraft and getting it to respond is a pretty cool hack. I doubt they'll be able to make it do anything useful, but hey - it makes a good toy to play with.

"Earth Bound" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47242683)

- three rocket burns in 1986 set it on course to return 28 years later, on Aug. 10, 2014. Dr. Farquhar suggested that a space shuttle could bring it to the ground. NASA even signed an agreement to donate it to the National Air and Space Museum. The rest of NASA, however, was not thinking that far ahead. Now 81, Dr. Farquhar is collaborating with the rescue effort, and he is still thinking ahead. He wants to send ISEE3 out to visit yet another comet. Mr. Wingo protests that it would cost too much money. “We’ll go to the comet,” Dr. Farquhar said. “Trust me.”

Re:"Earth Bound" (1)

C0R1D4N (970153) | about 2 months ago | (#47242705)

I don't understand where the costs would be to redirect it to another comet. The time to figure out the math?

Re:"Earth Bound" (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47243029)

Mostly in Deep Space Network tracking time. The Original mission to Halley's Comet was so far out, it never heard the command to cycle down all the instruments and since it was solar powered it simply kept transmitting waiting for new orders. (It was a "Long" wait..). NASA was so convinced they wouldn't be able to contact it.. time on the DSN wasn't even booked. After they contacted it the crowd source funding was used to "Purchase" precious time on the DNS to perform the Deep Space Location and Ranging operation.. which will help keep it off the rocky shoals of the Moon. Its passing so close to the Moon it would be flying through the Stratosphere if the Moon had an atmosphere like Earth. Then it has to whip around the Dark side of the Moon and plunge into Darkness for the first time in 36 years, since its batteries are long dead, instruments and transmitters will power down.. and they can only hope it revives when it reaches Daylight on the otherside of the Underworld. If it does it will be home free, taking up a temporary parking orbit in one of the Lagrangian points around Earth forever bathed in Sunlight. But the L5 spot is getting rather crowed and it takes up fuel to maintain a stable space and no collide with anything else.. so they are postulating only a brief stay.. then a push off towards another Sun Diver in a few years.

Re:"Earth Bound" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47247973)

Dr. Farquhar is collaborating with the rescue effort

Farquhar Fenton Mudd? I thought he resisted rescue efforts?

1978 (2)

PPH (736903) | about 2 months ago | (#47242707)

From TFA:

the Commodores topped the music charts with "Three Times a Lady"

If we can get Wingo an up to date location to target Justin Bieber, we might see yet another contribution to the arts.

as long as... (1)

murdocj (543661) | about 2 months ago | (#47243059)

... it didn't meet and fuse with an alien probe of immense power designed to bring back sterilized soil samples, we're ok.

Big Blue Box, Lots of Time and Space.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47243215)

.. what's not to Like? Who was the Doctor in 1978 and 1986?

Re:Big Blue Box, Lots of Time and Space.. (1)

TangoMargarine (1617195) | about 2 months ago | (#47247121)

Tom Baker and Colin Baker, respectively (Fourth and Sixth).

Civilians? (1)

hubie (108345) | about 2 months ago | (#47243283)

What does that does that have to do with it? It was civilians who launched it and ran it as well.

Re:Civilians? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47243617)

Non-guvment types.. people who work for a living

Worth a shot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47243537)

Try peanut butter, I'm not sure if it works on dinosaurs, but it works great for mice.

She had nice arches. (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 months ago | (#47245537)

> in the McDonald's that used to serve the Navy's Moffett air station

The McDonald's attracted the military base, not the other way around.

Re:She had nice arches. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47250355)

They probably picked the Mickey D's cause there was lots of perfectly preserved left over Big Mac's from 1985

The IEEE (3, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 months ago | (#47247007)

had a ton of papers written with the various commands in them.
I wonder why they can't put the manual together from those?

Re:The IEEE (1)

Fishchip (1203964) | about 2 months ago | (#47247963)

I would wager it's because the important word in that sentence is 'had'.

n00bs (1)

Stuarticus (1205322) | about 2 months ago | (#47261405)

"No one has the full operating manual anymore, and the fragments are sometimes contradictory."

Haven't these guys ever RTFM'd before?

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