The Mission and Spacecraft Library

Pioneer 0, 1, 2

Part of the Pioneer program

Pioneers 0, 1 and 2 were the first U.S. spacecraft to attempt to leave Earth orbit. Propelled by the U.S.'s desire to beat the Soviet Union to the moon, each of the three vehicles was designed to go into orbit around the Moon and photograph the Moon's surface. None of the vehicles accomplished its intended mission, although some useful data was returned. The first vehicle, Pioneer 0, was launched by the USAF and was destroyed 77 seconds after launch when the rocket's first stage exploded. Following this attempt, Pioneer 1 and Pioneer 2 were turned over to United States' newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Pioneer 1 was the first spacecraft launched by NASA. A programming error in the Pioneer 1 launch vehicle upper stage resulted in Pioneer 1 being given insufficient velocity to escape the Earth's gravitational field. Although lunar orbit was not achieved, it did reach an altitude of 113854 km above Earth and provided data on the extent of the Earth's radiation belts. The vehicle reentered over the Pacific Ocean 2 days later. Pioneer 2 also suffered a launch vehicle failure and reentered the Earth's atmosphere 6 hours and 52 minutes after launch (it did not return any significant data).

Paint pattern for thermal control of multi-instrument payload. Spin stabilized. Retro-rocket for lunar orbit insertion.

TV camera. Magnetometer. Micrometeroid impact detector. Radiation detector.

Country of Origin United States
Customer/User USAF, NASA
Manufacturer(s) Space Technology Laboratories (TRW)
Size 0.77 m long x 0.74 m diameter
Orbit 0: Exploded 77 seconds after launch / 1: Reached 113854 km apogee before reentering Earth's atmosphere / 2: Reached 1550km apogee before reentering Earth's atmosphere
Design Life 1 week

Launch Facts
 Name  Int'l Desig.  Date  Site  Vehicle  Orbit  Mass(kg)
 Pioneer 0 (Thor Able 1)    8/17/58  ESMC  Thor Able  FTO  38
    1st stage malfunction; 1st US lunar attempt
 Pioneer 1  1958-[Eta]1  10/11/58  ESMC  Thor Able  HEO  38
    Set distance record; failed to reach moon
 Pioneer 2  none  11/8/58  ESMC  Thor Able  FTO  39
    3rd stage ignition unsuccessful

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