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by Brooks Hays
Los Gatos, Calif. (UPI) Jun 16, 2013
NASA's so-called zombie probe, or ISEE-3, has been tumbling aimlessly through space for nearly 20 years. But structure is about to be reintroduced to the daily routine of the International Sun-Earth Explorer spacecraft, all thanks to a ragtag group of citizen astronomers and aerospace engineers.
The California-based group, Skycorp, Inc., raised some $143,000 on the crowdfunding site RocketHub and recently made contact with the abandoned space probe. Having spent the last couple weeks attempting to understand the craft's ancient instruments and the 1970s software that governs them, the team now believes they're ready to bring the probe back into Earth's orbit and set it to work.
"Ordinarily when NASA is done with a mission, they send a command to turn off the transmitter," said Emily Lakdawalla, a spokesperson for the nonprofit the Planetary Society. "This was kind of a mistake, the fact that this transmitter is still operating."
"More impressive is the fact that more than 30 years old instruments of the spacecraft still seem to be in working order," she added.
The 850-pound craft was launched in 1978 and put to work studying the sun and its solar flares. Engineers at Skycorp -- who use an abandoned McDonald's in Los Gatos as their headquarters -- want to put ISEE-3 back to work on similar sun-specific tasks.
Dennis Wingo, leader of Skycorp, has persuaded NASA and its Deep Space Network to help his team pinpoint ISEE-3's trajectory, to determine the rocket burn necessary to put the craft back into Earth orbit.
Final preparations are still being made before the moment of truth. Wingo says its important to take this experiment to its logical conclusion -- whether that's a recaptured space probe, or a space probe careening into the moon.
"It is in the agency's best interest to find out," Wingo told the New York Times, "one way or the other."
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