ISEE-3 Back To Life | SciByte 132

ISEE-3 Back To Life | SciByte 132

Hello everyone and welcome back to SciByte!

We take a look at resurrecting a space probe, classroom decorations, brain control, viewer feedback, a three year look back at SciByte, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Show Notes:

Bringing an Abandoned Satellite Back to Life and Use

  • An independent team of engineers recovering old imagery on magnetic tape reels from the first lunar orbiter missions decided to accomplish a landmark achievement: to turn on, command and maneuver a NASA spacecraft long ago abandoned
  • Original mission : Sun/Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3)
  • Originally the mission was cooperative effort between NASA and ESRO/ESA to study the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind.
  • Examine in detail the structure of the solar wind near the Earth and the shock wave that forms the interface between the solar wind and Earth\’s magnetosphere
  • Investigate motions of and mechanisms operating in the plasma sheets, and continue the investigation of cosmic rays and solar flare emissions in the interplanetary region near 1 AU
  • Second mission: International Cometary Explorer
  • On June 10, 1982, after completing its original mission, ISEE-3 was repurposed. It was renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE)
  • The primary scientific objective of ICE was to study the interaction between the solar wind and a cometary atmosphere
  • ICE carried no cameras. It instead carried instruments for measurements of energetic particles, waves, plasmas, and fields
  • It was sent on a trajectory intercepting that of Comet Giacobini-Zinner and on 11 September 1985, the craft passed through the plasma tail of Comet Giacobini-Zinner
  • It transited between the Sun and Comet Halley in late March 1986, when other spacecraft were in the vicinity of Comet Halley, ICE flew through the tail
  • Heliospheric mission
  • This phase of the mission was approved by NASA in 1991, which consisted of investigations of coronal mass ejections in coordination with ground-based observations
  • End of mission
  • On May 5, 1997, NASA ended the ICE mission, and ordered the probe shut down, with only a carrier signal left operating
  • Further contact
  • In 1999, NASA made brief contact with ICE to verify its carrier signal and discovered that it had not been powered off after the last contact
  • On September 18, 2008 a status check revealed that all but one of its 13 experiments were still functioning, and it still has enough propellant
  • Bringing It Back to Life?
  • Earlier in 2014, officials with the Goddard Space Flight Center had said that the Deep Space Network equipment necessary to transmit signals to the spacecraft had been decommissioned in 1999, and that replacing it was not economically feasible
  • An independent team of engineers recovering old imagery on magnetic tape reels from the first lunar orbiter missions decided to accomplish a landmark achievement: to turn on, command and maneuver a NASA spacecraft long ago abandoned
  • They began to study the feasibility and challenges involved in reviving the \’dead\’ satellite
  • A team webpage said, \”We intend to contact the ISEE-3 (International Sun-Earth Explorer) spacecraft, command it to fire its engine and enter an orbit near Earth, and then resume its original mission…If we are successful we intend to facilitate the sharing and interpretation of all of the new data ISEE-3 sends back via crowdsourcing.\”
  • Crowdsourcing
  • To cover the costs of writing the software to communicate with the probe, searching through the NASA archives for the information needed to control the spacecraft, and buying time on the dish antennas
  • On May 15, 2014, the project reached its crowdfunding goal, and they further met a \’stretch\’ goal of $150,000
  • Window of Opportunity
  • The team needed to contact the spacecraft before the end of May because the next close approach to the Earth won’t be until 30-40 years
  • The ISEE-3/ICE spacecraft was never really designed to be an interplanetary cruiser and thus the thrusters on board are very small
  • The project members are working on deadline: if they get the spacecraft to change its orbit by late May or early June 2014, it can use the Moon\’s gravity to get back into a useful halo orbit.
  • The team estimates that if they wait until mid-June to do the course correction that it will take 17 hours of thrusting to get the course change of about 40 meters/second that they will need at that time
  • Hardware and Software
  • It has been 30 years since the original project was started and and documents and magnetic tapes have disappeared.
  • The software and hardware to program, command and transmit to ISEE-3 are long gone
  • Amateur radio operators now have technology sufficient to acquire the signal and through the internet are also a part of the recovery effort
  • Even without the original hardware transmitter, today’s high-speed electronics are able to emulate in software the hardware from 36 years ago
  • Project members obtained the needed hardware (power amplifier, modulator/demodulator and installed it on the 305-meter Arecibo dish antenna on May 19, 2014
  • Technical Progress
  • This is an ongoing process and the team has dug some of the pertinent information out of 35 year old IEEE or AIAA papers that are publicly available
  • Most of the best information the team found was from the people who worked on the project in the 1980\’s when the spacecraft was fully operational
  • They also obtained several documents from NASA as part of the development of thier Space Act Agreement
  • Since there is no computer on board the ISEE-3 spacecraft the task is actually much easier since we are going to be directly commanding various subsystems
  • Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreement
  • Although NASA is not funding the project, it made advisors available and gave approval to try to establish contact
  • On May 21, 2014, NASA announced that it had signed a Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with the ISEE-3 Reboot Project
  • \”This is the first time NASA has worked such an agreement for use of a spacecraft the agency is no longer using or ever planned to use again,\” officials said
  • Multimedia
  • Twitter | ISEE3 Reboot Project (ISEE3Reboot)
  • YouTube | ISEE-3 Reboot | Mike Loucks
  • YouTube | ISEE-3 Reboot Project – Recovering a 30 year old space probe Scott Manley
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA Signs Agreement with Citizen Scientists Attempting to Communicate with Old Spacecraft |
  • ISEE-3 Reboot Project Status and Schedule for First Contact | Space College
  • Guest Post: No turning back, NASA ISEE-3 Spacecraft Returning to Earth after a 36 Year Journey |
  • International Cometary Explorer – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • ISEE-3 Reboot Project | Astronomy News |
  • ISEE-3 Reboot Project: Stretch Goal – NASA Watch
  • ISEE-3 Reboot Project by Space College, Skycorp, and SpaceRef | RocketHub


Distracted by Classroom Decorations?

  • New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that too much materials covering a classroom wall may end up disrupting attention and learning in young children
  • The Low Down
  • Researchers looked at whether classroom displays affected children\’s ability to maintain focus during instruction and to learn the lesson content
  • They found that children in highly decorated classrooms were more distracted, spent more time off-task and demonstrated smaller learning gains than when the decorations were removed
  • The Study
  • 24 kindergarten students were placed in laboratory classrooms for six introductory science lessons on topics they were unfamiliar with
  • Three lessons were taught in a heavily decorated classroom, and three lessons were given in a sparse classroom.
  • Results
  • The results showed that while children learned in both classroom types, they learned more when the room was not heavily decorated
  • Children\’s accuracy on the test questions was higher in the sparse classroom (55 percent correct) than in the decorated classroom (42 percent correct).
  • When the researchers tallied all of the time children spent off-task in both types of classrooms, the rate of off-task behavior was higher in the decorated classroom (38.6 percent time spent off-task) than in the sparse classroom (28.4 percent time spent off-task)
  • The Future
  • The researchers are interested in finding out if the visual displays were removed, whether the children\’s attention would shift to another distraction
  • Additional research is needed to know what effect the classroom visual environment has on children\’s attention and learning in real classrooms
  • They say that they do not suggest by any means that this is the answer to all educational problems but that teachers should consider whether some of their visual displays may be distracting
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Heavily decorated classrooms disrupt attention and learning in young children |


Flying With Only A Thought

  • Scientists have now demonstrated the feasibility of flying via brain control, with astonishing accuracy
  • First Breakthrough
  • Seven subjects took part in the flight simulator tests
  • They had varying levels of flight experience, including one person without any practical cockpit experience whatsoever
  • The accuracy with which the test subjects stayed on course by merely thinking commands would have sufficed, in part, to fulfill the requirements of a flying license test
  • Several of the subjects also managed the landing approach under poor visibility
  • In The Future
  • Scientists are now focusing in particular on the question of how the requirements for the control system and flight dynamics need to be altered to accommodate the new control method
  • Normally, pilots feel resistance in steering and must exert significant force when the loads induced on the aircraft become too large
  • This feedback is missing when using brain control
  • The researchers are thus looking for alternative methods of feedback to signal when the envelope is pushed too hard, for example
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Using thoughts to control airplanes |


Jupiter\’s Great Red Spot Shrinking?

  • Twitter | Michael Thalleen ‏@ThalleenM
  • Jupiter\’s Great Red Spot Shrinks to Smallest Size Ever Seen
  • The Great Red Spot
  • “Recent Hubble Space Telescope observations confirm that the spot is now just under 10,250 miles (16,500 km) across, the smallest diameter we’ve ever measured,” said Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Using historic sketches and photos from the late 1800s, astronomers determined the spot’s diameter then at 25,475 miles (41,000 km) across
  • Changes
  • Starting in 2012 amateur observations revealed a noticeable increase in the spot’s shrinkage rate
  • They showed that the spot’s “waistline” is getting smaller by just under 620 miles (1,000 km) per year while its north-south extent has changed little
  • This has caused the spot to become more circular in shape
  • Cause
  • There are no firm answers yet as to what is causing the drastic downsizing,
  • New observations however show that very small eddies are feeding into the storm which may be responsible for the accelerated change by altering the internal dynamics of the Great Red Spot
  • The storm appears to be conserving angular momentum by spinning faster the same way an ice skater spins up when they pulls in their arms
  • The faster winds might also help shrink the spot further or bring about its rejuvenation.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Jupiter\’s Great Red \’Shrinking\’ Spot Spied By Hubble | VideoFromSpace
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • [Hubble Sees Jupiter\’s Red Spot Shrink to Smallest Size Ever |

— Updates —


  • Hosts
  • Jeremy | Co-Hosted for ep 1-13
  • Nikki | Summer SciByte | August 06, 2013; August 13, 2013; August 27, 2013; July 23, 2013; SciByte September 03, 2013
  • Chris | Episodes 14+ [minus a few \”Summer SciByte\” or \”Summer SciByte Style\” with Nikki]
  • Formats Over the Years
  • Totally edited video in a virtual studio with Jeremy
  • Totally video in a virtual studio with Chris
  • Video once a month and \”Enhance Audio\” with Chris
  • \”Enhanced Audio\” with Chris
  • Google Hangout\’s with Nikki
  • Science as an Adjective, a Noun, and a Verb
  • Adjective = \’describing\’ a word; Noun = person, place, thing, animal, idea; Verb = conveys an action
  • \”Science is Sad\” | Large Hadron Collider | SciByte 8
  • Watching Science Progres
  • Private Space Travel Advances | From an idea, to engineering, to testing, to implementation [i.e. SpaceX and Virgin Galactic]
  • Mars Landers | Opportunity (continuing science and solar panel ‘cleaning’ events) and Curiosity (Confirmation of running/standing water in Mars history, ancient habitable locations, drilling into rocks, switching to searching for the building blocks of life)
  • Watching science progress | Alzheimer\’s research, Voyager 1, Exoplanets, medical research helping senses
  • Breaking Science | \’Faster Than Light Neutrinos\’, Higgs-Boson Particle
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • SciByte |


  • The Image from Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)
  • Shows the rock target \”Windjana\” and its immediate surroundings after inspection of the site by the rover
  • The researchers drilled a test hole and a sample collection hole produced the mounds of drill cuttings that are markedly less red than the other visible surfaces
  • This preparatory \”mini drill\” hole, to lower right from the open hole, was drilled on Sol 615 (April 29, 2014) and subsequently filled in with cuttings from the sample collection drilling.
  • The open hole from sample collection is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. It was drilled on Sol 621 (May 5, 2014).
  • The vigorous activity of penetrating the rock with the rover\’s hammering drill also resulted in slides of loose material near the rock
  • Gathering Samples
  • Since then, the 1 ton robot carefully scrutinized the resulting 2.6 inches (6.5 centimeters) deep borehole, the scientists then hit the fresh bore hole with a pinpoint series of parting laser blasts
  • The mound of dark grey colored drill tailings, much darker and greyer that the exterior of the rock, that are piled around for an up close examination of the texture and composition with the MAHLI camera and spectrometers
  • The team has successfully delivered pulverized and sieved samples to the pair of onboard miniaturized chemistry labs [Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM)] for chemical and compositional analysis.
  • Researchers decided that one drill campaign into Kimberley was enough, so the rover will not be drilling into any other rock targets at this location
  • There will be further analysis of the ‘Windjana’ sample along the way since there’s plenty of leftover sample material stored in the CHIMRA sample processing mechanism to allow future delivery of samples when the rover periodically pauses during driving.
  • The Future
  • It may be a very long time before the next drilling when the rover arrives at the foothills of Mount Sharp
  • The current location, Windjama, lies some 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) southwest of Yellowknife Bay
  • It still has about another 4 kilometers to go to reach the foothills of Mount Sharp sometime later this year
  • Multimedia
  • Images – Mars Science Laboratory |
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Curiosity says \’Goodbye Kimberley\’ after Parting Laser Blasts and Seeking New Adventures Ahead |


Looking back

  • May 29, 1919 : 95 years ago : Einstein\’s Relativity Theory Proved : A solar eclipse permitted observation of the bending of starlight passing through the sun\’s gravitational field, as predicted by Albert Einstein\’s theory of relativity. Separate expeditions of the Royal Astronomical Society travelled to Brazil and off the west coast of Africa. Both made measurements of the position of stars visible close to the sun during a solar eclipse. These observations showed that, indeed, the light of stars was bent as it passed through the gravitational field of the sun. This was a key prediction of Albert Einstein\’s theory that gravity affected energy as in addition to the familiar effect on matter. The verification of predictions of Einstein\’s theory, proved during the solar eclipse was a dramatic landmark scientific event.

Looking up this week

  • Keep an eye out for …
  • Wed, May 28 | New Moon (exact at 2:40 p.m. EDT)
  • Fri, May 30 | 20-30 min after sunset | | Very low in the W-NW you can see the hairline crescent Moon with Mercury to its right, they both set fairly quickly. You can see Jupiter to the far upper left.
  • Sat, May 31 | ~1hr after sunset | Jupiter stands to the upper right of the Moon in the early evening
  • Sun, Jun 03 | ~1hr after sunset | Jupiter is now to the left and slightly higher than the moon
  • Planets
  • Mercury | Twilight | It is at it\’s highest point for 2014 for mid-N lat, and is fading this week. As twilight deepens, look for it in the W-NW to the lower right of bright Jupiter as it fades this week
  • Venus | Dawn | The \”Morning Star\” is low in the E during dawn, moving to it\’s highest point in the south in late twilight
  • Mars | Is at it\’s highest point in the S in late twilight, it sets in the W around 3 or 4 a.m. DST
  • Jupiter | Twilight | Is in the west at twilight, sinking during the evening and sets around 11 or midnight. Jupiter is on the far side of the Sun from us and is nearly its minimum apparent size that we see
  • Saturn | Evening | Appears SE in the evening moving to it\’s highest point in the S ~11-12

  • Further Reading and Resources

  • Sky&Telescope | Sky at a Glance
  • For the Southern hemisphere:
  • Constellations of the Southern Hemisphere :
  • Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand :
  • AstronomyNow
  • HeavensAbove

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