Sunday, May 4, 2014
Garage Engineers Go Long
Thirty six years ago NASA launched a space weather probe called ISEE-3 (International Sun Earth Explorer). For almost 20 years the small craft worked at the tasks assigned by NASA. For a few years she mapped solar wind and the earth's magnetic field, and then, asked to fire her thrusters, she was sent to chase comets. Her last job was a fly-by of the familiar Halley's comet. She was retired in 1997, left alive in space, still sending signals but receiving no commands. Now come the "garage engineers", a motley crew of old time NASA guys and college students. These are men with computers, imagination and ambition. Seeking crowd funding for their plan, they intend to partner up with ISEE-3 as she whips around the moon this summer. The opportunity won't come again until 2029. ISEE-3 will be asked to monitor space weather again, and then, in 2018, fire her thrusters and go off after a comet. Simple, right? NASA has released all their ISEE-3 documents but isn't otherwise in on the plan. I love this team. This is the geek equivalent of a start up rock band in your garage. Cheer for them. Learn more by listening to this piece from NPR.