Pioneer 10 at Jupiter
In the late 1960s into the 1970s, the world was abuzz with excitement over the resounding success of the famed Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Behind the scenes, though, a series of launches destined to expand humanity’s horizons was already underway!
A total of eight Pioneer space missions sent to study planets or take scientific measurements were launched between 1965 and 1978 (earlier Pioneer missions in the 1950s studied the region around the moon).
Happy 50th Anniversary!
This year, though, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pioneer 10. It was a groundbreaking mission – the first mission sent by NASA to the outer planets. Pioneer 10 was destined for Jupiter… and beyond. A few fun facts about Pioneer 10:
- Moving at speeds up to 32,400 mph, it became the fastest manmade object ever to leave Earth
- It took only 11 hours for Pioneer 10 to pass the moon
- At its speed, it took just 3 months for Pioneer 10 to pass Mars!
- It was the first craft planned to escape into interstellar space
After making the harrowing journey through the asteroid belt, Pioneer 10 continued on its way to Jupiter. As it passed by the gas giant, the craft came within 81,000 miles of the 5th planet’s cloudtops. In early December of 1973, during its flyby of Jupiter, Pioneer 10 captured the first-ever closeup images of the planet and beamed them back to Earth.
In addition to its turn as a photographer, the craft also studied Jupiter – sending us information about its magnetic field, radiation belts, the discovery of its massive magnetic tail and more!
Going above & beyond
Its initial mission complete, the craft went on to explore more of our solar system. Regular contact with Pioneer 10 stopped in 1997 – a quarter-century after its start. In 2002, 30 years after its launch, the final telemetry readings were received from the spacecraft. And finally, in January 2003, the very last signal came to us from Pioneer 10 – from a distance of 7.6 billion miles, as it continued on its journey into uncharted territory.
Coins & currency honoring outer space
Today, a number of “out of this world” achievements have been celebrated on outer space coins. There have been dollar coins celebrating the space program and the Hubble Telescope (above), as well as a coin and stamp set honoring the Apollo 11 moon landing.
We’ve even seen outer space coins from foreign lands honoring milestone anniversaries! In 2019, to celebrate the moon landing, The Solomon Islands released a coinage tribute to the moon landing, as well as a 12-coin set complete with custom display folder. Then, in 2021, Ghana created a coin honoring the Space Shuttle Columbia, while Fiji released a special coinage tribute to the Mars Rover landing.
For those with an eye on Martian exploration, there’s a colorized Mission to Mars $2 Note. Plus, Littleton’s exclusive Race to Space and Race to Space: Lift Off series offer colorful ways to relive a time when nations pushed to be the first on the moon!
I like to think about all the things Pioneer 10 is seeing on its journey into the unknown. What do you think are its chances of ever encountering another civilization light years from us?