THE DEPTHS OF SPACE: The Pioneer Planetary Probes

Mark Wolverton, Author . Joseph Henry $24.95 (249p) ISBN 978-0-309-09050-6

The interplanetary space probes Pioneer 10 and 11 are probably best remembered for the gold calling cards on their sides inscribed with a "We Are Here" map of the Earth and, most controversially, a naked man and woman. But the accomplishments of these probes are remarkable, as journalist Wolverton recounts in this history of the amazing miniprobes that ran on old-fashioned computer logic switches. The team at Ames Space Center didn't know whether Pioneer 10 would even survive its crossing of the asteroid belt, but a final, faint tweet was received from the spacecraft nearly 30 years later, in January 2003, on its way to some distant solar system. Pioneer 11, shot like a stone from a slingshot by Jupiter's gravity, went on to a rendezvous with Saturn, where it made its way through the planet's ring system, narrowly escaping collision with a fast-moving moon it had just discovered. The last Pioneer mission, Pioneer Venus, stayed a little closer to home, dropping probes onto the surface of Venus. Wolverton conveys the intense competition within NASA as scientists at Ames jockeyed with other space centers, first to run the Pioneer projects, then to get the valuable allocation of radio antenna time to answer the crafts' ever fainter signals. Project managers under the legendary Charlie Hall proved the success of the "Faster, better, cheaper" mantra before it became a NASA catch phrase. Space buffs will revel in this well-told tale of the little space probes that could. B&w photos. Agent, Michael Psaltis. (June 22)

Reviewed on: 04/19/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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