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Rescuing the Artifacts of Space

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Calling all techno-archaeologists: Help retrieve the wondrous inventions that have expanded our view of the cosmos.

Usually our space probes have an expiration date, and we can no longer rely on them for furthering our discoveries of the worlds, the space, the universe beyond our solitary planet.

But 36 years after its launch into space, the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 is still working, apparently. And could prove useful. A group of engineers are crowd-sourcing the wherewithal to try to command an ancient space explorer whose operating manual is lost to history.

Back in the 1980s, The ISEE-3, to use its shortened name, investigated the interaction between solar winds and the Earth's magnetic field, which protects us all from the harmful effects of radiation, among other things. It was also the first spacecraft to orbit the Sun between the Earth and Sun throughout its orbit, and the first to fly past a comet, in this case comet Giacobini-Zinner.

What's interesting, beyond the findings of this now-antique space satellite, according to an interesting article in the New York Times is how scientists banded together to help pay the costs to rescue the spacecraft for further use: Dozens of scientists and researchers around the country, including some original ISEE-3 team members, created a program on the crowdfunding website RocketHub, asking for $125,000 to help pay the costs - they raised $160,000 from 2,238 donors. They clearly struck a chord with the public.

If scientists are able to retrieve, in a way, the spacecraft, they'll try to use it for future comet research.

In any event, it's great that scientists are thinking of how to take an old thing to look for the next big thing, and are using the new forces of internet crowds to help fund it. Working together like this is another real advance for science.