Cover image for The depths of space : the story of the Pioneer planetary probes
The depths of space : the story of the Pioneer planetary probes
Wolverton, Mark.
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Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Joseph Henry Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiii, 249 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Embarkation -- Reaching into the void -- Something man has never done before -- The sole selection -- Countdown and controversy -- Spring at the Cape -- Twelve generations from Galileo -- Filling in the gaps -- A jewel in the night -- Planet of clouds -- Whispers across the abyss -- Lone survivor.
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QB661 .W75 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The first spacecraft to explore the secrets of the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, and the void beyond Pluto, the Pioneer space probes have been the trailblazers of the space age, truly going where no man has gone before.

Emblazoned with the nude figures of a man and a woman, etched representations of our human form, the Pioneer generation of probes were aptly named. Launched into the inky depths of space, they were more than mere machines, they were humanity's first emissaries into deep space. And the pictorial inscriptions that adorned the crafts embodied the hopes and dreams of everyone involved in the Pioneer program. They were our humble attempt to communicate with the extraterrestrial intelligent life we imagined the probes might encounter -- they were our message in a bottle.

Perhaps the most efficient, reliable, and cost effective program to come out of NASA, the Pioneer missions are a shining example of how a small and talented group of people can, against all odds, pull something off that has never been done before. Indeed, more than thirty years after its launch in 1972, Pioneer 10 is still cruising into interstellar space, sending back data as it courses through the galaxy while Pioneer 6, in solar orbit, is more than 35 years old and humankind's oldest functioning spacecraft. But despite their enduring contributions, the Pioneer project remains a footnote in space history, little more than a humble prologue to its inheritors.

The Depths of Space recounts the long overdue history of Pioneer both as a scientific and technological achievement and as the story of the exceptional people who made the program possible. This tight narrative captures the black-coffee buzz of full-throttle, deadline-driven production, the sharp, intense thrill of discovery, the pang of anxiety that accompanies looming danger and ultimate loss, and the satisfaction and pride of creating an enduring legacy.

Author Notes

Mark Wolverton has studied the Pioneer project extensively, both while publishing several articles on the missions and during a 1999 science writing fellowship at NASA Ames Research Center, the birthplace of the Pioneer probes. His articles have appeared in American Heritage of Invention & Technology, Skeptical Inquirer, Quest: The History of Spaceflight, and American History. He has also published short stories and written scripts produced by National Public Radio. Wolverton lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

During his science history fellowship at NASA/Ames in 1999, Wolverton wrote a history of the Pioneer series of spacecraft (1958-2003), describing the mission planning, science experiments, and tensions and arguments among the contractors, planners, and scientists as each spacecraft was developed. The cornerstone for mission success, largely driven by project manager Charles F. Hall, was the philosophy of simplicity. Using spin stabilization and no onboard computers, designed for only six to twelve months but lasting for many years, Pioneer spacecrafts were the first to report on space weather, first to go beyond Mars, through the asteroid belt and visit Jupiter and Saturn, and first to go out of the solar system into deep space, measuring the extent of the heliosphere along the way. Access to NASA archives and interviews with or correspondence involving principal scientists (van Allen, Simpson, and T. Gehrels) are behind this gripping account of the achievements of a remarkable set of 19 spacecraft in their exploration of the sun and the planets. Nine pages of notes reference quotes in the text; a few black-and-white photographs; two-page bibliography of popular articles, books, and government publications; list of nine interviewees; nine-page index. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended for space-age history buffs. General readers; lower-division undergraduates; professionals. W. E. Howard III formerly, Universities Space Research Association

Table of Contents

James A. Van Allen
Forewordp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introduction--Message in a Bottlep. 1
1 Embarkationp. 7
2 Reaching into the Voidp. 19
3 Something Man Has Never Done Beforep. 40
4 The Sole Selectionp. 52
5 Countdown and Controversyp. 71
6 Spring at the Capep. 84
7 Twelve Generations from Galileop. 100
8 Filling in the Gapsp. 120
9 A Jewel in the Nightp. 138
10 Planet of Cloudsp. 159
11 Whispers Across the Abyssp. 179
12 Lone Survivorp. 202
Notesp. 227
Bibliographyp. 237
Indexp. 241