COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — NASA gave its official blessing to a group of volunteers trying to take control of a 36-year-old heliophysics spacecraft the agency retired in 1997, according to a May 21 press release.

NASA said it signed a nonreimbursable Space Act Agreement with Skycorp Inc. of Los Gatos, California, to give the company legal approval to contact, command and control the International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE)-3 spacecraft as part of the company’s ISEE-3 Reboot Project.

Skycorp is owned by Dennis Wingo, who together with collaborator Keith Cowing, editor of the space blog, raised more than $125,000 on the crowdfunding website to cover the ISEE-3 Reboot Project’s operating costs.

Some of the money was used to fly people and parts to the Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico, where a three-person ISEE-3 away team, including Wingo, made contact with the old heliophysics observatory May 20. 

The ISEE-3 reboot project plans to use a combination of donated hardware, new software, brain power and luck to swing the spacecraft back into an Earth orbit where it can resume its original mission: observing the interactions between Earth and the sun. 

Launched in 1978, ISEE-3 has been in a heliocentric orbit since 1984, when NASA rebranded the spacecraft the International Cometary Explorer and sent it on a 15-year expedition to encounter the comets Halley and Giacobini-Zinner.

The ISEE-3 reboot team has only until July to command the spacecraft back into Earth orbit. After that, the satellite’s onboard engines will not be able to redirect the craft into a useful orbit. If ISEE-3 can be brought back to Earth orbit, and its instruments work, the ISEE-3 reboot team is considering another crowdfunding campaign to raise money for science operations.

ISEE-3 would be controlled from a makeshift mission control center dubbed McMoons, a repurposed McDonald’s at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

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Fundraisers Expect Green Light from NASA To Recover ’70s-Vintage Spacecraft

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...