Don Savage Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1547


February 27, 1997

Diane Farrar Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA (Phone: 415/604-3934) RELEASE: 97-31 PIONEER 10 SPACECRAFT NEARS 25TH ANNIVERSARY, END OF MISSION A major milestone for humanity's most distant and longestlived interplanetary explorer will occur on March 2, 1997, when NASA's hardy Pioneer 10 spacecraft reaches its 25th anniversary in space. "Pioneer 10 exemplifies the American pioneering spirit of exploration far beyond the frontier," said Dr. Wesley T. Huntress, Jr., Associate Administrator for Space Science at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "Not only has it made many major scientific discoveries in the far reaches of space, we're proud that it has managed to stay alive almost ten times longer than the original mission called for, a tribute to the designers and builders at TRW, and the operators at NASA's Ames Research Center. "NASA operated the Pioneer 10 mission as long as it had enough power to return science data about the conditions in space as far from Earth as possible. We will end the science mission at the end of March because the power has finally become too weak to do significant science," Huntress said. Launched from Cape Kennedy on March 2, 1972, aboard an Atlas Centaur rocket for what had been planned as a two-year mission to Jupiter, Pioneer 10 is now so far away that its radio signal, traveling at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), takes nine hours and ten minutes to reach the Earth. Currently twice as far from the Sun as Pluto, Pioneer is returning data about the farthest reaches of the Sun's atmosphere. Now 6.2 billion miles from Earth, Pioneer 10, built by TRW Space and Electronics Group, Redondo Beach, CA, was the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt and explore the outer solar system, the first spacecraft to visit Jupiter, the first to use a planet's gravity to change its course and to reach

solar-system-escape velocity, and the first spacecraft to pass beyond the known planets. Now traveling at 28,000 miles per hour, Pioneer 10 is recording the intensity of galactic cosmic rays in the outer heliosphere (the region of solar wind influence) and searching for the heliopause, the true outer boundary of the solar system where the flow of hot gas from the Sun (the solar wind) bumps into the interstellar medium. The spacecraft is heading in the direction of the long "tail" of the teardrop-shaped heliosphere. Many scientists rank the first crossing of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter as one of Pioneer 10's major achievements. Before the crossing, no one knew how many rocks, as well as grains of sand, speeding through space at thousands of miles per hour would impact and possibly disable the spacecraft. Pioneer 10 made the crossing nearly unscathed, thus opening the way for other spacecraft to explore beyond Mars, including its sister Pioneer 11, the twin Voyager spacecraft, the Galileo mission to Jupiter and, later this year, the Cassini mission to Saturn. The spacecraft also survived Jupiter's intense radiation belts when it flew safely by the giant planet in December 1973. Providing the best information of the planet obtained to that date, Pioneer 10's instruments studied ultraviolet and infrared radiation and charged particles, and provided the first "closeups" of Jupiter and its moons. It also was the first to measure the planet's giant radiation belts, magnetic field and magnetosphere, as well as its atmosphere and interior. The spacecraft measured the exact masses of Jupiter and its four planet-sized moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. After its Jupiter flyby, the spacecraft continued its mission of exploration for over two decades, and in 1983 became the first spacecraft to travel beyond the outermost planets, Neptune and Pluto. Pioneer 10 will have its first "near-starencounter" in about 30,000 years when it will pass within approximately three light years of the red dwarf star Ross 248 in the constellation Taurus. In the next million years, Pioneer 10 will pass ten stars at distances ranging from three to nine light years, and will probably still be traveling through the Milky Way galaxy when the Sun becomes a red giant and destroys the Earth five billion years from now.

Pioneer carries a message for any intelligent life forms that it might encounter on its trek across the galaxy. A goldanodized aluminum plaque designed by Dr. Frank Drake and the late Dr. Carl Sagan is bolted to the spacecraft. The plaque's engraving depicts a man and a woman, a map of Earth's solar system, and other symbols which may help intelligent beings interpret the message and understand something about the spacecraft's creators, and where they lived. The 570-lb. spacecraft carries 11 instruments that have been used to measure magnetic fields, solar wind, high energy cosmic rays, cosmic and asteroidal dust, and Jupiter's ultraviolet and infrared radiation. Pioneer 10 obtains power from four radioisotope thermoelectric generators that originally supplied 160 watts, but are now two-thirds degraded. The spacecraft is spin-stabilized and has a nine-foot dish antenna. Pioneer's 8watt signal, equal to the power of a night light, now reaches the 70-meter antennae and sensitive receivers at NASA's Deep Space Network with the strength of .3 billionths of a trillionth of a watt. More information on Pioneer 10 (including an image of the plaque) is available via the Internet at URL: The 25th Anniversary of Pioneer 10's launch will be celebrated March 3 in Washington, DC. The events include a daylong Educator's Conference at NASA Headquarters, co-sponsored by the Ames Research Center and The Planetary Society, which will be linked worldwide by the Internet, with a virtual conference featuring RealAudio, WebChat, and E-mail questions for those not attending onsite. Visit the web site at URL: The Pioneer 10 mission is managed by the Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, for the Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. -end-