Pioneer program

Under the name Pioneer ( pioneer German ) are a total of 19 different space probes NASA summarized that were started 1958-1978 for the exploration of the Moon, the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn and Venus.


The Pioneer missions were all under the theme of basic research. Science was initially in second place, was more important to test the technology, since 1958, the space was still in its infancy.

Pioneer 0-4, A through D had the moon as a target, Pioneer 5 was an interplanetary flight test, Pioneer 6-9 and E were used to study the sun, Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 to advance to the outer solar system ( the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn ), Pioneer Venus 1 and 2 flew to Venus.


The first was the U.S. Air Force: Three 38 kg heavy probes they had constructed. The first aim was a flyby of the moon. All probes were already equipped with optical systems.

  • Pioneer 0 exploded along with the Thor -Able rocket after 77 seconds on August 17, 1958.
  • Pioneer 1 was launched on October 11, 1958 reached due to a premature shutdown of the second stage of the Thor -Able only a peak altitude of 113,854 kilometers (about one third of the Earth-Moon distance ) and burned up after 43 hours of flight in the atmosphere.
  • Pioneer 2 reached due to the failure of the third stage of the Thor -Able launch vehicle on November 8, 1958 was only a distance of 1500 km and burned up in Earth's atmosphere.

After that, the U.S. Army has had a turn. Among the scientists involved also scored Wernher von Braun. The two probes that were constructed under his supervision, had a weight of only six kilograms and contributed as a scientific experiment a beam detector.

  • Pioneer 3 reached due to a premature shutdown of the first stage of the Juno II launch vehicle on December 6, 1958 was only a peak altitude of 102,230 kilometers and burned up, similar to Pioneer 1, after 38 hours of flight in the atmosphere.
  • With the launch of Pioneer 4 on a Juno II rocket the U.S. succeeded on March 4, 1959, the decisive breakthrough: The moon has happened 60,000 km distance. The probe left the area of ​​influence of the Earth's gravity and penetrated as the first American spacecraft in interplanetary space before. Nevertheless, the U.S. was too late: Lunik 1 had the same mission on 4 January 1959 just two months before, performed.

To catch up with the Soviet Union, prepared the new space agency NASA in 1959 the launch of four lunar orbiters before, all about 170 kg. This group of four was an utter failure and were kept secret from the public. Hence the contradictory terms.

  • Pioneer P -1 is also often not listed as the Atlas -Able rocket exploded in engine tests on September 24, 1959 before the start without was the payload on board.
  • Pioneer P -3, was destroyed 45 seconds after the start of 1959 by the failure of the payload fairing of the Atlas -Able rocket on 26 November.
  • Pioneer P-30, exploded with the Atlas -Able rocket on 25 September 1960.
  • Pioneer P -31, exploded along with the Atlas -Able rocket on 15 December 1960.

In 1960, NASA also tested a prototype for an interplanetary spacecraft. Although this only one - 43 kg heavy - was copy available, everything worked:

  • Pioneer 5 was launched on 11 March 1960, a Thor -Able rocket. The contact could be regularly maintained until 30 April 1960, and after that you still received until June 24, 1960 irregular signals from the probe, but the goal was reached.

Then, in the framework of the Ranger lunar probes and the Mariner program entered (Venus and Mars ), a break with the " Pioneers " one. It was only in 1965, new probes were built. It was the aim of the interplanetary space, in which a probe network should be built to the sun sensing.

  • Pioneer 6 was launched on 16 December 1965, a Delta rocket.
  • Pioneer 7 was launched on August 17, 1966, a Delta rocket.
  • Pioneer 8 was launched on 13 December 1967, a Delta rocket.
  • Pioneer 9 was launched on 8 November 1968 with a Delta rocket
  • Pioneer E was launched on August 27, 1969, but the Delta rocket exploded shortly after takeoff, and the probe was destroyed.

However, the other probes were working satisfactorily. The experiments included measurements of dust particles, different rays and magnetic fields. The probe Pioneer 7 1986 was also used for the observation of Halley's comet of 12 million kilometers away.

The first NASA lost on May 18, 1983 Contact for Pioneer 9 The other three probes worked until the mid-1990s. Contact with Pioneer 7 broke on March 31, 1995, in Pioneer 8 on 22 August 1996. Too for Pioneer 6, the communication was after 1995 partly interrupted. A last contact with Pioneer 6 was established on 8 December 2000 - 35 years after the launch. This was an absolute record in terms of lifespan, up on August 13, 2012 Voyager 2 surpassed this achievement.

In the seventies, the last four Pioneer spacecraft were launched. Pioneer 10 and 11 had as its objective the exploration of the planets Jupiter and Saturn and the Asteroid Belt; Pioneer Venus the planet Venus. These missions were successful.

  • Pioneer 10 was launched on 3 March 1972 on an Atlas - Centaur rocket.
  • Pioneer 11 was launched on April 6, 1973, an Atlas - Centaur rocket.
  • Pioneer Venus 1 was launched on May 20, 1978, an Atlas - Centaur rocket.
  • Pioneer Venus 2 launched on August 8, 1978, an Atlas - Centaur rocket.

Popular Cultural Reception

  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: A Pioneer probe is viewed from a Klingon as space debris and used for target practice. This could be either Pioneer 10 or Pioneer 11.