SP-349/396 PIONEER ODYSSEY

 

Introduction

painting of Jupiter and one of its moons in the foreground

[viii] ANCIENT PEOPLES, perhaps thousands of years ago, undoubtedly conceived the idea of "reaching out" to Jupiter, the largest and most brilliant of the "wandering stars." But for mankind to stretch across the half billion miles to the giant planet of the Solar System many advances in technical and organizational fields of human endeavor had to be made. Outreach to Jupiter did not become a serious possibility until the Pioneer F and G Project was formed by NASA early in 1968. And then man began to design an extension of his senses that would probe the environs of the giant of the Solar System, a truly pioneer odyssey into the virtually unknown regions beyond the orbit of Mars.

In the ensuing years, a dedicated and cooperative effort of several thousand people in Government, university, and private industrial organizations converted the idea into a reality. Less than twelve generations after Galileo first saw the banded disc of Jupiter and the flickering dots of its large satellites in the newly invented telescope, mankind sent a machine to make observations within that Jovian system.

The two Pioneer spacecraft for the mission to Jupiter each weighed only about 570 pounds, yet carried eleven highly sophisticated instruments capable of operating unattended for many years in space. The spacecraft consumes less electrical power than a standard 100 watt lamp yet is able to accept instructions from Earth to control numerous operating modes of its scientific payload, process observations from these scientific instruments and format the observations into information usable on Earth. Even more remarkable, the spacecraft transmits a radio signal of only 8 watts power - equal to a nightlight - yet the information carried by the radio signal is received back on Earth from a distance of several billion miles.

The Pioneer mission could not have been a success without the special engineering, scientific and management organization created for its accomplishment. This organization was rather unique in that it first had to meet a launch date target relatively quickly and then had to function for an extremely long mission operational time, far longer than any previous missions to planets. The first task was thus to organize so that the mission could be planned and the spacecraft designed and fabricated to be ready for launch within a few weeks of a 30-month target for completion.

The program also produced an organization that planned mission operations to such detail that more than 16,000 commands were transmitted flawlessly to the distant spacecraft during Jupiter encounter. And each command reached the spacecraft within one second of the planned time despite the more than 90 minutes required for the radio message to travel from Earth to the spacecraft and for the spacecraft to return a confirmation to controllers back on Earth.

The organization for Pioneer also determined the required flight path from Earth to Jupiter with such precision, and controlled the launch vehicle with such accuracy, that 21 months after launch the spacecraft was able to fly behind Jupiter's [ix] satellite Io, thereby providing the first measurement that indicated the possibility of a tenuous atmosphere about this large satellite.

Finally, the Pioneer organization processed and analyzed each year sufficient information from the spacecraft to fill a book having about 3 million pages and reduced this avalanche of data from space into summaries of manageable size.

And all this organization depended on people, consisted of people: the people who really made this whole mission possible.

Pioneer has always depended on the dedication of many individuals from many organizations throughout the world to achieve its scientific objectives, and, as evidenced by the success of the Pioneer series, this dependence is completely justified.

Relatively few individuals have an opportunity during their lives to participate in such a challenging, historic, pioneering effort; and still fewer are able to enjoy the rewards of such an activity. We who have worked on Pioneer 10 and its sister spacecraft, Pioneer 11, consider ourselves fortunate to be in both classes. For the opportunity we thank the people of the United States of America, who have supported our country's space effort and its spreading of human awareness of a vast and intriguing universe in which our own unique planet Earth is only one of myriads of worlds. This volume describing the mission to Jupiter and its results is one of the many rewards for our effort which we share with you, the reader.

 

Charles F. Hall
Pioneer Project Manager
NASA-Ames Research Center


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