Thirty years ago, the NASA/Ames scientists launched a little spacecraft at Jupiter and they hoped it would last as long as 21 months. It worked as planned and in a flyby of the red giant it sent back dazzling pictures of Jupiter and then with the ol’ slingshot maneuver it accelerated past Jupiter and headed out of town. It never fell prey to spacecraft eating asteroids in the Van Allen Belt and it kept on working in minus 459 degree weather. The radiation belts around Jupiter didn’t phase it and it kept talking to us for 30 years until January 23rd, 2003. The final message was,
“Send more comic books and beer!”
So off it went into deep space headed for the bull’s-eye of the constellation Taurus. They will be rolling out the red carpet on Aldebaran, the first star Pioneer 10 will pass by, in about 2 million years.
Carl Sagan was charged with designing a plaque to attach to the side of the Pioneer 10 to tell those who might find it where it came from, who sent it and when. It was controversial at the time. Some critics said we shouldn’t tell aliens where we are but the loudest complainers were shocked that we would show a man and a woman in full frontal trow-dropping nakedness like a couple of skinny dipping hippies. I would never have sent them naked. They should have been wearing Aloha shirts and shorts with cameras around their necks and I would have tossed in a couple of nose picking kids with speech balloons, whining, “Are we there yet?”
I was listening to my favorite show on NPR, Science Friday with Ira Flato when I heard him interviewing Larry Lasher the Pioneer 10 project manager and I thought, hummm. I could sure use a copy of that plaque (even if the guy pictured is far buffer than I am) for the wall at Buck’s. It’s scientific, historic, local and they are `buck neekid.’ So I got hold of Larry and he and his amoretti, Judy, came by one Sunday morning and brought a plaque. We busted flapjacks and worked up reasons for the man holding up his hand. “Hi folks. Sorry no spare change.” Or, “See, melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”
Next: I was listening to the True Confessions on `E’ and I’m calling Hollywood to see if they will send me Heather Graham.