Image of Pioneer spacecraft
The Pioneer missions were designed to study our Sun's environment and the planets. Although some of the launches failed, the Pioneer program can still be considered a success.
Pioneer 1 was launched in 1958 and Pioneer 13 was launched in 1978. So, you can see that the Pioneer program spanned many years.
The early Pioneer missions had a focus of studying the near-Earth environment and the Moon. These missions looked at radiation, magnetic fields, cosmic rays and micrometeorites in the vicinity of the Earth and Moon. Later missions looked farther than the Earth and the Moon.
Pioneer 10, launched in 1972, was very different from the previous Pioneer missions. It was the first spacecraft to pass through the Asteroid Belt and the first spacecraft to take close-up pictures of Jupiter. This Pioneer mission technically ended on March 31, 1997. Its weak signal is still tracked though. Pioneer 10 is headed in the direction of the constellation Taurus. It will take over 2 million years for Pioneer to pass one of the stars of Taurus!
The Pioneer 11 spacecraft was launched a year later and used a gravity assist from Jupiter to visit Saturn. It returned detailed pictures of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, the first close-up photographs of Saturn and its rings, and information that Titan is too cold to support life. The Pioneer 11 mission ended on September 20, 1995. It hasn't been heard from since that day! Pioneer 11 is headed toward the constellation Aquila.
The Pioneer missions carry a gold plaque with a graphic message in case extraterrestrial life were ever to find the spacecraft.
Pioneer 12 & 13 were considered part of a project called Pioneer Venus. Pioneer 12 was launched in May 1978. It consisted of an orbiter. Pioneer 13 was launched in August 1978 and consisted of 3 small probes and 1 large probe. Pioneer 12 used radar to map the planet's surface, while Pioneer 13 deployed its four probes that were carried through the Venutian atmosphere by parachutes. The spacecrafts found evidence of lightning, atmospheric composition changes, and distinct differences in atmosphere layers. Pioneer 12 orbited Venus for 14 years until it entered the atmosphere of Venus in 1992 and was destroyed.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games
section of our online store
includes a climate change card game
and the Traveling Nitrogen game
You might also be interested in:
The Earth has a magnetic field with north and south poles. The magnetic field of the Earth is enclosed in a region surrounding the Earth called the magnetosphere. As the Earth rotates, its hot core generates...more
The Great Red Spot is thought to be a hurricane which has been raging on Jupiter for at least 400 years. The connected page shows an image of the Great Red Spot next to Tropical Storm Emily for comparison....more
Many people are fascinated by Saturn's rings. Although Saturn isn't the only planet with rings, it is the only planet famous for them. Almost every image or drawing of the planet has the rings included....more
At approximately 5:10 p.m. EST on February 17, 1998, the Voyager 1 spacecraft will become the spacecraft that has traveled farthest away from the planet Earth. For 25 years, Pioneer 10 has been in the...more
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. It is also one of the brighter objects in the night sky. No one knows for sure who discovered Jupiter, but we know the ancient Greeks named him after...more
Have you ever seen the Southern or Northern Lights? Did you know that Earth isn't the only planet that puts on these beautiful light shows, also known as the "aurora"? Auroral displays have also been observed...more
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was one of the most important exploration tools of the past two decades, and will continue to serve as a great resource well into the new millennium. The HST is credited...more