NASA marks 64 years since the launch of the Pioneer 1 mission

This week, 64 years ago, the first-ever NASA spacecraft mission took place. However, the mission did not take place as originally planned. Pioneer 1 launched from Cape Canaveral on October 11, 1958 and aimed to fly around the moon. Moreover, at the time of the launch, NASA existed for only three months. The purpose of the mission was to study ionizing radiation, cosmic rays, magnetic fields and micrometeorites near the Earth and the Moon.

Pioneer 1. Photo: National Museum of Aviation and Cosmonautics

However, after the launch on the Thor-Able rocket, the speed of the push to the Moon was insufficient, which prevented Pioneer 1 from reaching our nearest neighbor. Two days later, the spacecraft burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere. During its 43-hour flight, the probe was able to transmit scientific data about the near-Earth atmosphere to scientists. 

Pioneer 1 was a relatively small spacecraft with a cylindrical central part with a diameter of 74 centimeters and a height of 76 centimeters. At one end was an 11-kilogram solid-fuel injection rocket, and at the other end were eight smaller rockets for speed control, mounted by a ring. The spacecraft had an infrared television system designed to study the surface of the Moon, a device for detecting micrometeorites, a magnetometer with a spin coil for measuring magnetic fields and variable temperature resistors for recording the internal conditions of the spacecraft. 

Despite the failure, the launch was still a resounding response to the Soviet Union, which successfully launched its satellite a year earlier thanks to the Ukrainian rocket scientist Serhiii Korolev. In general, NASA has learned a lot from its first Pioneer missions, paving the way for progressively more ambitious journeys into deep space. The last device in the program, Pioneer 11, left Earth in 1973 and made the first direct observations of Saturn six years later. Although communication with Pioneer 11 has long been lost, NASA says that it is heading for the constellation of Aquila, and intends to fly near one of the stars of this constellation in about 4 million years. 

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