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Pioneer 3
Pioneer 3 Mission to Earth's Moon

Goals: Pioneer 3 was intended to be a lunar flyby mission. The spacecraft carried an optical sensor to test future imaging systems. It also carried instruments to study radiation in interplanetary space.

Accomplishments: A malfunction in a booster rocket left the spacecraft without enough velocity to break out of Earth orbit. It fell back to Earth and burned up over Africa. However, in its 38 hours 6 minutes of spaceflight, Pioneer 3 detected and mapped the outer Van Allen radiation belt around Earth. (The inner Van Allen belt was discovered earlier in 1958 by Explorer 1).


Key Dates
6 Dec 1958:  Launch (05:44:52 UT)
Status: Unsuccessful
Fast Facts
Pioneer 3 Facts Pioneer 3 didn't make it to the Moon, but it did send back data that led to discovery of Earth's outer radiation belt.

The white stripes on the probe helped it maintain a proper temperature in space.

Pioneer 3 was the final Moon launch of 1958.
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Last Updated: 30 Nov 2010