LOS ANGELES – NASA successfully bridged 7.4 billion miles of space to contact the Pioneer 10 spacecraft on the 30th anniversary of its launch, mission managers said Saturday.
Scientists beamed a message to the craft Friday from a radio telescope in the desert east of Los Angeles. A radio telescope in Spain received the response 22 hours and six minutes later, said Larry Lasher, the mission's project manager.
"The signal was loud and clear, and I'd like to say this contact worked like a charm," Lasher said. NASA last heard from the craft in July.
Pioneer 10's original, 21-month mission has improbably stretched three decades. The spacecraft was launched March 2, 1972.
It passed through the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and obtained close-up images of Jupiter. In 1983, it became the first manmade object to leave the solar system when it passed the orbit of distant Pluto.
Pioneer 10 is now in galactic orbit, twice as far from Earth as Pluto. It is traveling at 27,380 mph relative to the sun, and is in line to reach Aldebaran, the red star that forms the eye of the constellation Taurus. But it won't get there for about 2 million years.
Lasher said the clarity of the signal Saturday gave him hope of remaining in touch with the craft for another year.