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Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to pass through the asteroid belt, the first spacecraft to flyby Jupiter in 1973 and the first to obtain close-up images of Jupiter and the first to visit the outer solar system.

Pioneer 10 was launched on March 2, 1972, on a 21-month mission on a three-stage Atlas-Centaur rocket on a direct launch to Planet Jupiter (with no parking in Earth orbit). It was designed and built by TRW Inc. under contract with NASA Ames. 

The spacecraft specifications are: Length: 2.9 m (9ft 6 in), Diameter (dish-antenna): 2.7 m (9 ft) and Weight: 258 kg (568 lb).

Pioneer 10 Plaque

Pioneer 10 carries a gold plaque which was designed to provide information about the origin of the spacecraft. The plaque was designed by Dr. Carl Sagan and Dr. Frank Drake and drawn by Linda Salzman Sagan.

The plaque consists of diagrams. These include a man and woman standing on the side view of the spacecraft. The man's hand is raised in a gesture of good will. The diagrams also show the position of our solar system in the galaxy and chemical information about hydrogen, the most common element in the universe.

Achievements

* Pioneer entered the Asteroid Belt on 15 July 1972 and successfully passed through it. 

* On December 3 1973, Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to obtain close-up images of the gas giant and to chart its intense radiation belts. It passed by Jupiter within 130,354 kilometers of the Planet's cloudtops. In addition, Pioneer 10 located the planet's magnetic field and discovered that Jupiter is predominantly a liquid planet.

* Following its encounter with Jupiter, Pioneer 10 explored the outer regions of the Solar System, studying the solar wind as well as cosmic rays from deep space.

* In 1983 Pioneer 10 became the first manmade object to leave the solar system when it passed the orbit of Pluto, the most distant planet from the Sun.

* NASA officially ended the Pioneer 10 mission on 31 March 1997.  Scientists continued to use the spacecraft as part of a study of communication technology for NASA's future Interstellar Probe mission. Pioneer's weak signal has been tracked by Nasa's Deep Space Network.

* Until February, 1998, Pioneer 10 was the most distant space probe launched from earth, however in that month (on February 17, 1998), Voyager 1 became the most distant space probe, at 6.5 billion miles (10.4 billion kilometers) from Earth. The two are headed in almost opposite directions away from the Sun.

* The last time a Pioneer 10 contact returned telemetry data was on 27 April 2002. Pioneer's last, very weak signal was received on 23 January 2003. Pioneer 10's radioisotope power source has decayed, and it may not have enough power to send additional transmissions to Earth. NASA has no additional contact attempts planned for Pioneer 10.

The Future

The Pioneer 10 spacecraft continues to coast toward the star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus (the Bull). It will take 2 million years to reach it.


Did you know?

- The Pioneer 10 mission was originally designed for a 21 months, however, Pioneer 10 exceeded all expectations and lasted more than 30 years.

- Pioneer 11 followed it in 1974.

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Copyright ฉ 2000-2014 Vic Stathopoulos. All rights reserved.

Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014

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