July 23, 2002
Pioneer 10 = Energizer Bunny of Space
Posted by scott at July 23, 2002 07:22 AM
Scientific American has this cool writeup on Pioneer 10 and our other far-distant space probes. The viking landers, launched around the same time as this stuff, went quiet long ago. But there were Viking orbiters too. I wonder what happened to them?
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The Viking mission was planned to continue for 90 days after landing. Each orbiter and lander operated far beyond its design lifetime. Viking Orbiter 1 continued for four years and 1,489 orbits of Mars, concluding its mission August 7, 1980, while Viking Orbiter 2 functioned until July 25, 1978. Because of the variations in available sunlight, both landers were powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators -- devices that create electricity from heat given off by the natural decay of plutonium. That power source allowed long-term science investigations that otherwise would not have been possible. Viking Lander 1 made its final transmission to Earth November 11, 1982. The last data from Viking Lander 2 arrived at Earth on April 11, 1980.