03
Mar
03

so long pioneer 10; let ’em know we’re coming

well, a miserable winter means silence. there hasn’t been much worth posting lately…bitter complaints about the weather are about as much fun to read as they are to mutter, so silence has done nicely.

but today…today saw a landmark event in the eternal human struggle to spew ourselves into every crack and crevice we lay eyes on.

back when nixon was president, nasa launched a space probe named pioneer 10 on a mission of exploration. amazingly, just today, the 570-pound, nuclear-powered tourist, eight billion miles from home, sent its last message back to nasa. it’s so far away, it took the signal 11 hours to get here at the speed of light.

pioneer was the first probe to survey jupiter and saturn, and lasted 28 more years than it was designed to. the computer processor power onboard has less muscle than your cellphone, yet it hung in there until today, when it sent its last faint message home using the last of its power.

it’s on its way to the star aldebaran, which is the eye in the constellation called taurus the bull. at 68 light-years away, it’ll get there in about two million years. there’s a plaque bolted to pioneer 10’s side that shows pictures of human beings for the benefit of any sentient beings who may intercept the spacecraft. apparently, pioneer’s designers felt that the human species might not proliferate out into the cosmos and make aldebaran a suburb of earth and thereby make our presence known. they can be forgiven for this mistake; it was 1972 and they hadn’t yet seen the true magnitude of the sprawl of suburban blight we now have caked around our cultural centers.

next time you feel out of sorts, think of poor pioneer 10, a billiard ball coasting forward 30 years after the smack of the cue stick. 30 years down, 1,999,970 left to go. you may feel better about your own predicament. unless you’re stuck in traffic.

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