Pioneer program

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The Pioneer program is a series of United States unmanned space missions that was designed for planetary exploration. There were a number of such missions in the program, but the most notable were Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, which explored the outer planets and left the solar system. Both carry a golden plaque, depicting a man and a woman and information about the origin and the creators of the probes, should any extraterrestrials find them someday.

Credit for naming the first probe has been attributed to Stephen A. Saliga, who had been assigned to the Air Force Orientation Group, Wright-Patterson AFB, as chief designer of Air Force exhibits. While he was at a briefing, the spacecraft was described to him as a "lunar-orbiting vehicle with an infrared scanning device." Saliga thought the title too long and lacked theme for an exhibit design. He suggested "Pioneer" as the name of the probe since "the Army had already launched and orbited the Explorer satellite and their Public Information Office was identifying the Army as 'Pioneers in Space,'" and by adopting the name the Air Force would "make a 'quantum jump' as to who really [were] the 'Pioneers in space.'"[1]


Early Pioneer missions

The earliest missions were attempts to achieve Earth's escape velocity, simply to show it was feasible and study the Moon. This included the first launch by NASA which was formed from the old NACA. These missions were carried out by the US Air Force and Army.

Able space probes (1958-1960)

  • Pioneer 0 (Thor-Able 1, Pioneer) - Lunar orbiter, destroyed (Thor failure 77 seconds after launch) August 17, 1958
  • Pioneer 1 (Thor-Able 2, Pioneer I) - Lunar orbiter, missed Moon (third stage partial failure) October 11, 1958
  • Pioneer 2 (Thor-Able 3, Pioneer II) - Lunar orbiter, reentry (third stage failure) November 8, 1958
  • Pioneer P-1 (Atlas-Able 4A, Pioneer W), probe lost September 24, 1959
  • Pioneer P-3 (Atlas-Able 4, Atlas-Able 4B, Pioneer X) - Lunar probe, lost in launcher failure November 26, 1959
  • Pioneer 5 (Pioneer P-2, Thor-Able 4, Pioneer V) - interplanetary space between Earth and Venus, launched March 11, 1960[2]
  • Pioneer P-30 (Atlas-Able 5A, Pioneer Y) - Lunar probe, failed to achieve lunar orbit September 25, 1960
  • Pioneer P-31 (Atlas-Able 5B, Pioneer Z) - Lunar probe, lost in upper stage failure December 15, 1960

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