The Non-Walker Zombie from Outer Space   Leave a comment

ZOMBIE-tmagSF

Illustration: NASA

Now, doesn’t that sound like a great title for a sci-fi novel?

Actually, this story’s true and it is a great story for a movie.

Way back when Jimmy Carter was president, in 1978, the International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 was launched with the mission to investigate solar wind’s interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field.  Later, it was renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) to study comets.  In September 1985, it passed through the tail of Comet Giacobini-Zinner, and in 1986 it was tasked with the mission to observe Halley’s Comet.  During the same year, three rocket burns put it on a course to position it above the moon on August 10, 2014.  With the ICE so near, a space shuttle could snatch it and return it to earth, and NASA had this in mind because it planned to donate it to the National Air and Space Museum.

After a few more missions, it was retired in 1997, although it loops around the sun in a 355 day orbit.  It will catch up with and pass the Earth this August 2014.  But in 1999, the Deep Space Network was upgraded and the transmitters that communicated with ICE were themselves retired, although no one said this to ICE, who continued its end of the bargain by remaining open to communication.  It’s sort of like being kept on hold and waiting forever, without anyone telling you that the person who put you there went home a long time ago, leaving you to listen to horrible Kenny G music in the meantime.

And really, that should have been the end of the story.  But it isn’t.

Within the confines of yet another decommissioned icon, an entrepreneurial engineer named Dennis Wingo has managed the impossible.  He and his team have begun communicating with ICE once more.  Mr. Wingo’s company is Skycorp and it’s located in an ex-McDonalds in a decommissioned Navy base that has been repurposed for nonprofits, academia and small technology firms.

A decommissioned satellite linked with a decommissioned burger factory is kind of cool.  There’s something very Max Headroom about it.  I like it.

Through Mr. Wingo’s determination, a group of engineers, including those who originally worked on the project, plus a crowd funding site RocketHub, they raised approximately $160,ooo to breathe life in the old gal.  And NASA’s doing its part too, donating time on its Deep Space Network to help getting ICE going again.

ICE is still doing its job out there and observing solar flares and other phenomena, as was discovered.  So there was great optimism to position it over the moon as originally planned, which now requires 400 pulses to place it over the sweet spot.  There’s been a few minor setbacks, but if all goes well, Mr. Wingo and his team are all set to pull ICE into a moon gravity-based slingshot into an orbit around the earth, so it can receive instructions for a new mission.

I have to admit that this story has me cheering.  Why should there be a whole pile of forgotten and unused satellites and space paraphernalia after NASA and all the world’s other space agencies no longer need them?  It’s an excellent opportunity for others, corporations like Skycorp but also universities and even astronomy and engineering clubs to find other purposes for them?  Sure, one can say that leaves opportunities for crimes we haven’t even imagined yet.  On the other hand, I’m sticking with the belief that a lot of good can come from that zombie named ICE, and its other colleagues out there.

Just imagine the stories that can be dreamed up from this real-life adventure…

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: