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Pioneer Program

The Pioneer Program is a series of American unmanned space missions designed for planetary exploration. The program included a number of missions, but the most well-known missions were Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11. Both Pioneer 10 and 11 explored the outer planets and left our solar system. Both probes carry a gold plaque, depicting a man and a woman and information about the origin of the probes and their creators. The Pioneer probe was named by Stephen A. Saliga, who was chief designer of Air Force exhibits for the Air Force Orientation Group, Wright-Patterson AFB. The probe was initially referred to as was “lunar-orbiting vehicle with infrared scanning device”. Saliga thought the title was too long and lacked theme for an exhibit design, and offered that “Pioneer” sounded better since the Army had already launched and orbited one satellite and the Army was considered “˜Pioneers of Space’. The Air Force adopted the name and with the success of the Pioneer Program, they became the real “˜Pioneers of Space’.

The earliest of the Pioneer missions were mere attempts to achieve Earth’s escape velocity and to prove that it was feasible. The first lunar orbiter, Pioneer 0 (launched August 17, 1958), failed shortly after launch. Subsequent missions through 1960 were hit and miss, and not until 1965, five years after the failed launch of Pioneer P-3, did NASA have several successful launches from the Pioneer program. NASA’s Ames Research Center used the Pioneer name for a new series of missions. Though these missions were largely successful, the missions returned poor quality images. The Pioneer program ended in 1978 after the launch of the Pioneer Venus Orbiter.

Missions launched by the Pioneer program from 1965 – 1978 include the Inner Solar System Missions, Outer Solar System Missions, and the Pioneer Venus Project. The Inner Solar System Missions include: Pioneer 6 – Dec. 1965, Pioneer 7 – Aug. 1966, Pioneer 8- Dec. 1967, Pioneer 9 – Nov. 1968, and Pioneer E – Aug. 1969, which was lost in launcher failure. The Outer Solar System Missions include: Pioneer 10 – Mar. 1972, Pioneer 11 – Apr. 1973, and Pioneer H, which was never launched. The Pioneer Venus Project missions include the Pioneer Venus Multi-probe – Aug. 1978, and Pioneer Venus Orbiter – Dec. 1978.

Pioneer Venus Orbiter launched several parachuted probes into Venus. These include Pioneer Venus Probe Bus, Pioneer Venus Large Probe, Pioneer Venus North Probe, Pioneer Venus Night Probe, and Pioneer Venus Day Probe.

Pioneer Program


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