Attempt to Bring Dead Space Probe Back to Life
NASA’s International Sun-Earth Explorer – 3 (ISEE-3) space-weather probe had a very successful life. For 19 years (1978 to 1997), it sent NASA a steady stream of information; first about the solar wind and how it interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field and later about comets. It was ISEE-3 that confirmed the theory that comets are essentially balls of dirty ice. But since 1997, NASA has ignored it as obsolete – simply hurtling through space in its stable orbit around the sun. That orbit will bring the probe near the Earth in August of this year. Sadly, NASA can no longer communicate with ISEE-3 – it decommissioned the necessary equipment about fifteen years ago.
Now, a group of engineers – some former NASA employees, other private space buffs – are attempting to raise money to recreate the Earth-based equipment needed to communicate with the probe. Calling themselves the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, the group is attempting to raise $125,000 in a crowd funding campaign that will end on May 18, 2014. NASA has not contributed any money, but has provided the group with a trove of documentation about ISEE-3 to assist the work.
I love this idea of privately funded science gaining value from an abandoned NASA project. Not only will science advance, but crowdfunding and planning to crowdsource the analysis of data sent back by a reactivated ISEE-3 will cause members of the public to connect with the project in ways that rarely happens with NASA projects.
I also like the allegory in finding new use in older, discarded equipment – equipment that works but is past its prime. Our society, with its emphasis on the new, discards many wonderful assets simply because they are older and perhaps not state of the art. Not least among those assets are elderly people: people with experience and wisdom that cannot be matched even as younger people may have more skills. I’d love to see a project to ensure that we gain the value of what our elders know rather than ignoring them.