Pioneer 10 was originally designated Pioneer F when this American space probe was launched in 1972.
Designed for deep-space exploration, it passed safely through the asteroid belt. That alone is quite an accomplishment as some of the asteroids are the size of Alaska. It took the first close-up pictures of Jupiter in 1973. It sent back data about the solar wind in the far reaches of our solar system.
The mission was originally expected to last only 21 months but quite amazingly it didn’t officially end until 1997. That was 25 years, and NASA’s Deep Space Network continued to pick up signals for several more years.
In 1983, Pioneer 10 lived up to its “pioneer” name when it passed outside Neptune’s orbit and became the first man-made object to leave the solar system.
As it ran out of power, it sent its last, faint communication back home in January 2003.
So, is that the end of Pioneer 10? No, it still continues (without a communications system) on its way to Aldebaran, the brightest star that forms the eye of the constellation Taurus. I would love to be around to write a post about that, but it will take about two million years to get there, according to NASA.
Don’t you wonder whether someone else may find it before that and try to determine where it came from and who sent it?