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Pioneer P-31
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Pioneer P-31
Pioneer P-31 Mission to Earth's Moon

Mission Type: Orbiter
Launch Vehicle: Atlas-Able (no. 3 / Atlas D no. 91)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States, launch complex 12
Spacecraft Mass: 176 kg
Spacecraft Instruments: 1) micrometeoroid detector; 2) high-energy radiation counter; 3) ionization chamber; 4) Geiger-Mueller tube; 5) low-energy radiation counter; 6) two magnetometers; 7) Sun scanner; 8) plasma probe; 9) scintillation spectrometer and 10) solid state detector
Total Cost: $9 - 10 million
Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, Monographs in Aerospace History No. 24, by Asif A. Siddiqi

National Space Science Data Center,

The mission of Able VB, as with its two unsuccessful predecessors, was to enter lunar orbit. Scientific objectives included studying radiation near the Moon, recording the incidence of micrometeoroids, and detecting a lunar magnetic field. Planned lunar orbital parameters were 4,300 x 2,400 kilometers with a period of 9 to 10 hours.

The spacecraft had a slightly different scientific instrument complement from that of its predecessors. This was third and last attempt by NASA to launch a probe to orbit the Moon in the 1959-60 period.

Unfortunately, the Atlas-Able booster exploded 68 seconds after launch at an altitude of about 12.2 kilometers. Later investigation indicated that the cause was premature Able stage ignition while the first stage was still firing.

Key Dates
15 Dec 1960:  Launch (09:10 UT)
Status: Unsuccessful
Fast Facts
Pioneer P-31 Facts In 1960, Russian dogs Belka and Strelka (right) became the first animals to return alive from space during the Sputnik 5 mission.

Pioneer P-31 was the final launch of 1960.

Of the seven interplanetary spacecraft launched in 1960, only Pioneer 5 was successful.
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Last Updated: 1 Dec 2010