A Group of Amateur Programmers Just Took Over an Abandoned NASA Satellite

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The ISEE-3 is a 36-year-old satellite that has been floating through space all willy nilly, ever since NASA left it for dead almost 17 years ago. That was until a group of engineers and computer programs decided to take over the satellite and set it off on a new mission. Now, two-way contact has been made via the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico and the amateurs are "in command" of the satellite.

The International Solar-Environment Explorer was launched in 1978 and took a years-long journey to the sun before being turned into a comet hunter. NASA ended its mission in 1997 and it's been floating aimlessly ever since. Earlier this year, a group of scientists decided to try and contact ISEE again, reboot it, and give it a new mission. NASA gave its blessing to the project, but had no money to fund it, so the ISEE-3 Reboot Project raised $160,000 through the crowdfunding site, RocketHub. They got the money, and now they have the satellite under their control.

But the hardest part is still to come. Scientists are now trying to get the satellite back to Earth. "Over the coming days and weeks our team will make an assessment of the spacecraft's overall health and refine the techniques required to fire its engines and bring it back to an orbit near Earth."

The project worked with staffers at Arecibo, the University of Kentucky, and of course, NASA — where some employees donated their free time to the project. If and when they get the satellite back closer to Earth, there will be a lot of investigating to do — that's why they plan to crowdsource the massive amounts of data analysis too.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.