Pioneer Program Background

The Pioneer program is a series of United States unmanned space missions that were designed for planetary exploration. There were a number of such missions in the program, but the most notable were Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, which explored the outer planets and left the solar system. Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 carry a golden plaque, depicting a man and a woman and information about the origin and the creators of the probes, should any extraterrestrials find them someday.

Early Able Tests

The earliest missions were attempts to achieve Earth’s escape velocity, simply to show it was feasible and study the Moon. This included the first launch by NASA which was formed from the old NACA. These missions were carried out by the US Air Force and Army.

Able Test Summary

  • Pioneer 0 (Thor-Able 1, Pioneer) – Lunar orbiter, destroyed (Thor failure 77 seconds after launch) August 17, 1958
  • Pioneer 1 (Thor-Able 2, Pioneer I) – Lunar orbiter, missed Moon (third stage partial failure) October 11, 1958
  • Pioneer 2 (Thor-Able 3, Pioneer II) – Lunar orbiter, reentry (third stage failure) November 8, 1958
  • Pioneer P-1 (Atlas-Able 4A, Pioneer W), probe lost September 24, 1959
  • Pioneer P-3 (Atlas-Able 4, Atlas-Able 4B, Pioneer X) – Lunar probe, lost in launcher failure November 26, 1959
  • Pioneer 5 (Pioneer P-2, Thor-Able 4, Pioneer V) – interplanetary space between Earth and Venus, launched March 11, 1960[2]
  • Pioneer P-30 (Atlas-Able 5A, Pioneer Y) – Lunar probe, failed to achieve lunar orbit September 25, 1960
  • Pioneer P-31 (Atlas-Able 5B, Pioneer Z) – Lunar probe, lost in upper stage failure December 15, 1960

Declassified Documents

 Detailed Test Objectives – Project Able-3, Earth Satellite, 7 July 1959 [135 Pages, 18.7MB] – The Detailed Test Objectives and flight test plans for Project Able- 3, earth satellite vehicle for testing the Able-4 (deep space probe configuration and gathering scientific information of propagation experiments and space environment, are contained within this document. Project Able-3 will be conducted as a part of the program directed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and is a joint project representing the contributions of a number of cooperating agencies.

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