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NASA Glenn Pioneer Launch History
Pioneer Launch Image Pioneer 10: Mission to Jupiter and Beyond

On March 2, 1972, engineers from Glenn (formerly Lewis) launched Pioneer 10 from the Cape Kennedy, carrying Earth's first space probe to an outer planet. This launch was just one of the many historic missions started by Glenn's former launch vehicles team. Glenn successfully managed the launch [1.2mg MPEG]of Pioneer 10: the first spacecraft to travel through the Asteroid belt, the first spacecraft to make direct observations and obtain close-up images of Jupiter, and the first man-made object to leave the solar system and travel on a flight path into interstellar space. Until February 1998, Pioneer 10 was the most remote object ever made by man. Traveling faster, Voyager 1 has since achieved a greater distance from the Sun.

Pioneer 10's first challenge was to pass through what was initially feared to be an impenetrable asteroid belt. The mission to Jupiter and beyond, managed by the NASA's Ames Research Center, was very successful resulting in the return of scientific data and images. It became the first artifact to leave the solar system on June 13, 1983 when it passed beyond the farthest known planet. It continued to search for the heliopause for another 20 years, exploring the very edges of interstellar space as it drifted onward in mankind's first journey to the stars. Pioneer's last, very weak signal was received on January 23, 2003. It is believed that its power source had run too low to transmit a signal. At the time, Pioneer 10 was more than 7.6 billion miles away from Earth.

The Lewis Team

The Lewis launch team was led by Center Director Bruce T. Lundin who gave the final call of "Go Atlas! Go Centaur!" prior to the final countdown. Edmund Jonash was the Chief of the Launch Vehicles Division, Daniel J. Shramo was the Atlas-Centaur Project Manager, and Edwin Muckley was the Centaur Project Engineer.

The Launch Vehicle

The Atlas vehicle had a total thrust of 411,353 pounds, consisting of two 174,841-pound-thrust booster engines; one 60,317-pound thrust sustainer engine, and two vernier engines, each developing 676 pounds thrust. Propellants were liquid oxygen and RP1.

The Centaur second stage had two engines with a total thrust of 29,200 pounds. This stage carried insulation panels which were jettisoned just before the vehicle left the Earth's atmosphere and were used to prevent heat or air friction from causing boil-off of liquid hydrogen on the pad and during the flight through the atmosphere. The propellants were liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

For the Pioneer missions, a solid-fueled TE364-4 third stage developed approximately 15,000 pounds of thrust. This stage also spun the spacecraft up to 60 rpm.

Pioneer 11

NASA Lewis also launched Pioneer 11 on April 5, 1973, like Pioneer 10, on top of an Atlas/Centaur/TE364-4 launch vehicle. During its flyby of Jupiter on 2 December 1974, Pioneer 11 obtained dramatic images of the Great Red Spot, made the first observation of the immense polar regions, and determined the mass of Jupiter's moon, Callisto. Looping high above the ecliptic plane and across the Solar System, Pioneer 11 raced toward its appointment with Saturn on 1 September 1979. Pioneer 11 flew to within 13,000 miles of Saturn and took the first close-up pictures of the planet. Following its encounter with Saturn, Pioneer 11 explored the outer regions of our Solar system, studying energetic particles from our Sun (Solar Wind), and cosmic rays entering our portion of the Milky Way. In September 1995, Pioneer 11 was at a distance of 6.5 billion km (4 billion miles) from Earth. However, by September 1995, its power source nearly exhausted, Pioneer 11 could no longer make any scientific observations, and routine mission operations were terminated. There have been no communications with Pioneer 11 since November 1995.

More information about NASA Lewis' launch vehicle programs is available on our launch vehicle page.

Last Updated: March 7, 2003

On March 1, 1999 the Lewis Research Center officially became the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field. Because of the historical nature of some web pages, the references to NASA Lewis have not been changed. [Details]