A NASA spacecraft launched 36 years ago has successfully completed a return visit to the Earth-moon system, reports Universe Today. The spacecraft has traveled more than 30 billion miles around the sun. This vintage probe is currently handled by a team of active and retired engineers. The spacecraft, International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) made its closest flyby of the Earth on August 9 and passed by the moon on August 10 at 2:16 p.m. EDT.
NASA handed over the spacecraft to a private group in April
At its closest approach, the ISEE-3 was about 9,800 miles from the moon’s surface. Currently, it’s about 225,000 miles away from the Earth. The unmanned probe has now moved back into the deep space. The ISEE-3 was originally tasked to study the outer reaches of our planet’s magnetosphere. In 1980s, NASA gave it a second mission of chasing comets. But the spacecraft had been in hibernation since 1998, until recently.
In April 2014, a group of engineers took control of the probe from NASA under the Space Act Agreement. The group, named ISEE-3 Reboot Project, raised $159,502 in crown funding. In May, they re-established contact with the probe and conducted multiple tests. The engineers ordered the ISEE-3 to transmit data back to the Earth.
Many of the NASA probe’s instruments are still working
After re-establishing contact with the NASA probe, they wanted to move it into a stable orbit near the Earth. But the spacecraft was out of the nitrogen pressurant necessary to get it done, leading to the failure of that attempt. Now, the group engineers have focused their efforts on an interplanetary science mission. Many of the spacecraft’s 13 instruments are still working properly. The ISEE-3 Reboot Project engineers will be able to listen to the probe for most of its orbit around the sun with the help of a network of radio dishes across the world.
The Interplanetary Citizen Science Mission will allow public access to the data transmitted by the probe as it moves into the deep space. The Reboot Project group last week collaborated with Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG) to provide live spacecraft data at SpacecraftForAll.com. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.