STILL TICKING

A QUARTER-CENTURY AFTER ITS LAUNCH, PIONEER 10 IS ALIVE AND CALLING HOME

It was sent aloft in 1972, when Richard Nixon was in the White House, Bobby Fischer was the world's chess champion, and the IBM 360 mainframe still dominated the computer industry. It was designed to have a useful life of three years, at most. Yet today, after a quarter-century, when Fischer has disappeared from the chess scene and the IBM 360 is merely a nostalgia item on display at Boston's Computer Museum, the doughty little spacecraft Pioneer 10 is still plugging along.

As of this week, Pioneer is 6 billion miles from Earth, making it the most distant man-made object in...

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