China’s Chang’e 2 lunar probe, now out of lunar orbit, did a fly-by of the 3 mile wide asteroid Toutatis as it zipped past the Earth last week, resulting in some spectacular images.
Launched on October 1, 2010, Chang’e 2 orbited the Moon for 8 months before being redirected last year to the L2 Lagrange point, roughly a million miles on the side of Earth opposite the Sun. But when it left L2 last April, Western observers suspected the spacecraft was heading deeper interplanetary space. It didn’t take long to realize that Chang’e 2 was bound for Toutatis.
This is an example of a very smart re-use of a space probe.
By the way, the first fly-by of another planet took place fifty years ago this week.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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