These 2 guys are trying to salvage a 35-year-old spacecraft ... and you can help

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Apr 25, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT

The derelict ISEE-3 has been left floating in space for more than a decade, but Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing want to give the 35-year-old spacecraft a new lease on life — and they need a little help.

The International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 probe was originally launched in 1978, and in the decades since it has studied solar winds and magnetic fields and even flown through the tail of Halley’s comet in 1986. NASA used the craft for all kinds of studies over the years, until it was decommissioned in 1999.

But Wingo and Cowing don’t believe that has to be the end, which is why they’ve started the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project to try and turn ISEE-3 into a new orbiting classroom and public science laboratory for the masses. 

Both Wingo and Cowing have deep ties to the aerospace industry, with Wingo an operator at private space company Skycorp and Cowing a former NASA employee who now runs the news website NASA Watch. 

NASA is in support of the project, but they don’t actually have any money to kick in due to those deep budget cuts, so the duo are tapping into their expertise to make the recovery a reality, and they’ve turned to crowdfunding service RocketHub to raise $125,000 for the project.

Basically, they’re trying to get all the coding and signals lined up to fire at the craft once it crosses into Earth orbit, with hopes that it’ll actually still be functional enough to take those commands and fire off the engines. If they’ve lost functionality, the project is a bust. But if it works, they’ll hopefully be able to get the ISEE-3 running again.

“The idea is, you have to yell at it with enough amplitude that it hears it and in the right vocabulary,” Cowing told Popular Mechanics. “Once you've done that and commanded it, then the spacecraft will show you what it can do and what it can't do.”

Wingo and Cowing have also hooked up with engineers involved in the original project, as well as a new generation of coders interested in getting the craft back up and running. If all goes according to plan, the team will turn the craft over to public control, making it a platform for citizen science.

Godspeed, team, and here’s hoping those rockets still have enough juice left for a few more burns.

(Via Popular Mechanics)