Friday, March 12, 2010

50 YA: Pioneer V Launches

Thor-Able rocket system ready for launch.

On March 11, 1960, NASA successfully launched a Thor-Able rocket from the Cape Canaveral launch pad complex. On board was the Pioneer V space probe. Its mission was to explore the nature of space between the orbits of Earth and Venus. Instruments aboard the spacecraft would detect cosmic rays, meteorite particles, solar radiation, and the magnetic fields between the planets.

Pioneer V attached to the Able stage.

The rocket was traveling over 24,000 mph when the satellite was separated from its final stage on March 11th. It successfully reached escape velocity and passed the orbit of the moon on March 12th. It eventually reached an orbit around the Sun, at about a distance of 74 million miles. The satellite had 4 solar power panels to help power it, containing some 4,800 solar cells - remarkable for that time. All the instruments and equipment fit in a sphere of 26 inches and weighed about 144 pounds.

Model of Pioneer V on display in 1964 at the Ohio Parade of Progress Show.

Signals from the Pioneer V would continue to be received until June of 1960. It's still out there, orbiting the Sun, and should stay there for another 100,000 years.

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