Scientists reconnect with wayward NASA spacecraft launched in 1978

A group of space enthusiasts have reportedly made contact with a wayward satellite launched nearly 40 years ago.

Keith Cowing, project organizer of the effort to reconnect with the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3, told NPR that the biggest challenge had been figuring out how to communicate with the aging 1978 satellite since space technology has changed so radically over time.

“The initial contact was a tone followed by specific commands, Cowing told NPR. “We learned a lot simply by being able to talk to it and get it to do things … May not sound like much but that was a huge unknown.”

The satellite had been on a “long, lonely trek” around the Sun since its initial mission, a lengthy trip to a comet. NASA officials agreed to let a private group known as the ISEE-3 Reboot Project raise funds to attempt to reconnect with the satellite.

The group used the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico to send commands. Scientist Robert Farquhar developed a complicated trajectory that allowed the spacecraft to intercept a comment in September 1985, months before an international armada of other space probes arrived at Halley’s Comet.

“We beat all the other countries of the world,” Farquhar recalled. “The European Space Agency. The Russians. The Japanese.”

The team that reconnected with ISEE-3 will now begin to assess the satellite’s health in coming weeks, NPR reports. If all goes according to plan, scientists hope to send it on a new trajectory by mid-June.

“We need to know a lot before we do that,” Cowing told NPR. “This is just the beginning of a long process.”