From: Ames Research Center
Posted: Saturday, December 6, 2003
Thirty years ago today on 3 December 1973, Pioneer 10 made its closest encounter to Jupiter passing within 81,000 miles of the cloudtops. This historic event marked humans' first approach to Jupiter and opened the way for exploration of the outer solar system - for Voyager to tour the outer planets, for Ulysses to break out of the ecliptic, for Galileo to investigate Jupiter and its satellites, and for Cassini to go to Saturn and probe Titan. During its Jupiter encounter, Pioneer 10 imaged the planet and its moons, and took measurements of Jupiter's magnetosphere, radiation belts, magnetic field, atmosphere, and interior. These measurements of the intense radiation environment near Jupiter were crucial in designing the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft.
The power source on Pioneer 10 finally degraded to the point where the signal to Earth dropped below the threshold for detection in its latest contact attempt on 7 February 2003. No more attempts at contact are planned at this time. The previous three contacts had very faint signals with no telemetry received. Pioneer's last, very weak signal was received on 23 January 2003. The last time a Pioneer 10 contact returned telemetry data was on 27 April 2002.
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