NASA's network for talking to space missions nears 50th anniversary

Dec. 18, 2013 at 9:04 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- NASA says its Deep Space Network, a powerful system for "talking to" spacecraft, is nearing a milestone -- the 50th anniversary of its official creation.

On Dec. 24, 1963, NASA inaugurated the system with a few small antennas called the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility, previously operated by the U.S. Army in the 1950s, and rechristened it the Deep Space Network.

Over the past 50 years, antennas of the DSN have communicated with just about every mission that has gone to the moon or beyond, NASA said.

The antennas have received the famous "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind" transmission from the 1969 moon landing, and data from numerous encounters with the outer planets of our solar system, images taken by rovers exploring Mars and the data confirming that NASA's Voyager spacecraft had finally entered interstellar space.

The Deep Space Network has been critical to the success of so many missions over the decades the network's team members like to use the phrase "Don't leave Earth without us," a NASA release said Wednesday.

Antenna complexes were established around the globe, spread out at roughly 120 degrees of longitude so that even as Earth rotated, spacecraft would always be above the horizon of at least one complex.

While some of the communication facilities have moved over the decades, today the three complexes are located in Canberra, Australia; Madrid, Spain; and Goldstone, Calif.

"Today, the DSN supports a fleet of more than 30 U.S. and international robotic space missions," DSN Project Manager Al Bhanji of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said.

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