Science: Patience Pays

An ailing satellite is revived

When an oscillator aboard the $50 million NOAA-8 weather satellite turned balky last June, the craft began tumbling out of control in its polar orbit. Without power, its systems shut down. All seemed lost, but a determined band of controllers from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), NASA and RCA refused to give up. Over the next ten months and on hundreds of occasions, they beamed radio signals at the errant craft, trying to revive it.

The odds they faced were formidable. The signals could reactivate the tumbling satellite only when its solar panels faced the sun, which provides the power...

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