“I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE” is what Dana must have heard.
We were talking about the ISEE-3 spacecraft during lunch at Arecibo Observatory some day in early June, just another day on the job. The transmitter to talk to the spacecraft, the only one that was capable of communicating with ISEE-3 on June 9, required manual intervention to switch between transmit and receive. I probably said something to the extent of, “It sounds like fun to spend 2.5 hours sweating profusely in a barely ventilated dome in a confined space 152 meters (500 feet) in the air with a something-hundred-kilowatt transmitter requiring manual switching to talk to a spacecraft launched before my parents even considered having kids,” or, “That might be fun to do later this week.” Not, “Sure, I’ll go spend my afternoon plugging and unplugging a cord in the name of science and archaic flight hardware”. To microwave receiver specialist Dana Whitlow, one of the few people on site trained to do this switching, this meant “Absolutely, yes—today.”
Read the rest of how we used a 50-year-old radio telescope in the jungle of Puerto Rico to communicate with an ancient spacecraft at my guest post on the Planetary Society‘s blog. Writing this was a blast; I hope you enjoy it.