Our plucky crowdfunded spacecraft has been getting into all sorts of productive mischief, from detecting a solar burst to worming its way into Google Chrome's interactive heart. Today ISEE-3 will be making its closest approach to the moon, and you can watch live with commentary from the project experts.
Expected path of ISEE-3 as it swoops past the moon, with closest approach on Sunday, 10 August at 18:16 Universal Time. Image credit: Mike Loucks
If you haven't been following along as the 1970s spacecraft stole your lunch money, got a call from us after a multi-decade silence, was precisely located by the Deep Space Network for the first time since pagers were a thing, played stump-the-scientist with the Space College engineers, and finally got ready to do science again, it's an incredible story. Lucky for you, it's also summarized in just over a minute by this video:
For once, "our" is a totally appropriate modifier for discussing a spacecraft. ISEE-3 was originally a NASA spacecraft launched in the 1970s, but since then it's been the subject of the first-ever public crowdfunding campaign to provide it a budget when normal funding was fully allocated to other functional, amazing science projects. After the massive collaborative effort required to get it going again, it's also the first crowdsourced spacecraft. Despite being decades old, this craft is hip enough to make Zaphod Beeblebrox envious, as the buzzwords continue with running free software (GNU radio) and providing open-access data.
The aging spacecraft is still a bit cranky, but I continue to be amazed and impressed that inside just a few months, this abandoned bit of space-junk has been reclaimed into a functional exploration tool for crowdsourced science. While the valiant efforts weren't enough to budge its orbit back around the Earth, I'm still thrilled that after 36 years in interplanetary space, we have control of ISEE-3 as it makes its long-awaited lunar flyby.
The ISEE-3 project team is hosting a Google Hangout to celebrate the flyby from their converted McDonald's, allowing you to track the realtime trajectory with live commentary.
The McDonald's hosting ISEE-3's terrestrial base lacks the capacity to deep-fry potatoes, but compensates with a host of other interesting tools. Image credit: SpaceCollege.org