|The Department Graduate Students Ground-Based Research|
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We had the Pioneer 10 encounter with Jupiter in December of ’73. It was the first spacecraft to get out to Jupiter, and I was part of the team that commanded the spacecraft and analyzed the data; looked at both the uplink and downlink. It was really neat. We got to sit at Mission Control up at Ames Research Center, and we’d monitor the commands to make sure they went out to the spacecraft. It wasn’t like today when you have these vast computer memories on spacecraft. Basically the instrument couldn’t remember anything but what it was told last, so we’d have to send commands out, and there were tens of thousands of commands, and everything was on IBM punch-cards. It was a different time.
On Pioneer we worked in teams. We had one guy monitoring the commands that went out and another guy monitoring the commands that came back, and occasionally radiation would affect the instrument and it would go wandering off doing something entirely different from what it was supposed to do. We had to have the uplink guy, the guy sending the commands, take corrective actions. But the light-time was an hour and a half so we’d lose an hour and half of observations whenever that happened.
Then Pioneer 11 got there a year later in December of ’74 and both missions were big successes. I was working on the red spot and I actually programmed up the sequence to take photos of the red spot. The photo that resulted from that line-up got on the cover of Scientific American, so that was gratifying.
Pioneer 11, which sling-shotted its way around Jupiter, went on out to Saturn. It finally arrived at Saturn in ’79, so the seventies was just this long sequence of planetary encounters. Really great stuff, really gratifying, and for somebody who just got his degree, it was just fabulous. We saw the F-ring on Saturn for the first time. Nobody had ever gotten ground-based pictures that looked like that, at that time. It was just very exciting.
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