Title text: HACK THE STARS
This comic is an imagined project to re-position the ISEE-3/ICE probe, and a parody of the 1995 movie Hackers. The first row (four panels) explain the history of the probe, and the true story about how the probe was coming back into signal range and seemed capable of being controlled. NASA declined to attempt to regain control of the probe, but a group of enthusiasts assembles the equipment and attempts to re-purpose the probe.
The following two rows (eight panels) set up a fictional scenario: the enthusiasts have been locked out of the system, the probe is being controlled by someone else, and the message "Mess with the best, die like the rest" is communicated from the probe. This is a catch phrase of the protagonist, Crash, from Hackers.
The final row is a reference to the ending of the movie, where Crash romances Burn, his romantic interest, in a rooftop pool. In the movie, while Crash and Burn swim in a rooftop pool, several buildings light up with the words "CRASH AND BURN". This is their friends' latest hack, and an attempt to provide romance for the new couple. In the comic the transmitter being used to communicate with ISEE-3 was hacked by Burn to make the probe burn up over Crash and Burn swimming in the pool providing a "shooting star" for romantic effect.
The comic number is 1337, which stands for "leet", short for "elite hacker" and "leetspeek" in leetspeak. Leetspeak is a form of symbolic writing that substitutes various numbers and ASCII symbols for letters. It originates from the hacker subculture, where words were converted to leetspeek e.g. to avoid filters and triggers on chat rooms. "1337" for "leet" can most likely be explained as calculator spelling.
The title text "Hack the stars" is also an allusion to Hackers, where the phrase "Hack the planet!" is used on multiple occasions.
- [A black image shows an image of the ISEE-3/ICE spacecraft in white. Text is written in white above it]
- The ISEE-3/ICE probe was launched in 1978.
- Its mission ended in 1997 and it was sent a shutdown signal.
- [The text continues, black on white, without a frame around it, between the first frame and the next.]
- In 2008, we learned-to our surprise-that the probe didn't shut down.
- It's still running and it has plenty of fuel.
- ...and in 2014, its orbit brings it near earth.
- [Megan holding up one hand and Ponytail are talking to each other.]
- Megan: We could send it on a new mission...
- Megan: Except we no longer have the equipment to send commands to it.
- Ponytail: Can't we—
- [Zoom in on Megan's head and torso as she looks towards Ponytail off-panel to the right.]
- Megan: NASA won't rebuild it. "Too Expensive"
- Ponytail (off-panel): Seriously?
- Megan: I know, right?
- Megan: So the internet found the specs
- Megan: And we went to work.
- [Megan and Ponytail are walking towards right, between Hairbun facing left and Cueball (with head phones) facing right. They are sitting at desks working on their laptops. Megan speaks, as indicated both by the story line and by her hand which is lifted up, but there is not speech line from her to the text.]
- Megan: We've convinced them to give us time on the Madrid DSN transmitter and hacked the maser to support the uplink.
- Megan: And today's the big day.
- [Zoom in on Cueball's head and torso, he holds a hand up to his speaker on his head phones and watches his lit screen (as indicated by lines emanating from it).]
- Cueball: Transmitting...
- Cueball: We have a signal!
- Cueball: We have control!
- [Zoom in on Megan's head and torso. She has turned away from Cueball to the right towards Hairbun.]
- Megan: OK, transmit the new comet rendezvous maneuver sequen—
- Cueball (off panel): What the hell?
- Megan: What?
- [Same setting as when Megan and Ponytail entered the control-room, but Ponytail just stands there and Megan puts a hand out towards Cueball.]
- Cueball: My console went dead!
- Hairbun: Mine too!
- Megan: What's happening?!
- [Another zoom in on Cueball's head and torso and glowing screen. He has both hands down.]
- Cueball: There's a new signal going out over the transmitter!
- Megan (off panel): A bug?
- Cueball: Someone else is in the system!
- [Zoom in on Hairbun's head and torso. She is also working on her laptop, with the glowing screen visible.]
- Hairbun: Kill the connection!
- Cueball (off panel): I can't find it!
- Hairbun: They're firing the probe's engines!
- Cueball (off panel): No!!
- [Back to a zoom in on Cueball. He points at his screen.]
- Megan (off panel): Who's doing this?? Stop them!
- Hairbun (off panel): I'm trying!
- Cueball: Look! My screen!
- [Same setting as when Megan and Ponytail entered the control-room, but Ponytail has a hand to her mouth and she and Megan stand close to Cueball who has taken his hands off the keyboard. The text on Cueball's laptop screen is shown above the setting, indicated with zigzag lines:]
- [The last four panels is outside night scenes with a black sky above. In the first of these a woman (Burn) with long hair (Megan like) and a hairy man (Crash) is seen in a swimming pool with blue water.]
- [A zoom out reveals that the pool is on top of a skyscraper in a vertically developed, downtown setting with lots of light in all the skyscrapers, one of which is even taller than the one with the pool. From the top of the central skyscraper speech lines come which indicate that the two from the pool is up there speaking, and we get their names from this panel.]
- Burn: Crash?
- Crash: Yeah, Burn?
- [Same setting but only one speech line.]
- Burn: Make a wish.
- [The last panel shows the same setting, but with the spacecraft streaking across the sky as it enters the Earths atmosphere and burns up in a way that is indistinguishable from a meteoroid.]
Background for ISEE-3/ICE
The ISEE-3/ICE probe was launched in August 12, 1978 and tasked to study Earth's magnetic field and the solar wind. Before completing its original mission the probe was repurposed on June 10, 1982 to study the interaction between the solar wind and a cometary atmosphere. By flying through the comet Giacobini-Zinner's tail, it became the first probe to do so. This put ISEE-3 in a heliocentric orbit. Its trajectory will bring it close to Earth on August 2014.
The Deep Space Network (DSN) detected the probe again in 2008 because NASA mistakenly left its transmitters on. However, the probe was only transmitting the carrier signal at that time. A status check of the spacecraft has revealed that many of its instruments are still working and that it contains plenty of fuel.
It was reported that the hardware to communicate with ISEE-3/ICE had been decommissioned. The Madrid DSS complex still has the special filter required to communicate with the ICE satellite, but because of frequency conflicts S-band uplink is not supported.
On March 1 and 2, 2014 radio amateurs were able to detect the beacon signal from the retired NASA deep space probe ICE (International Cometary Explorer) using the 20 m radio telescope at the Bochum Observatory (Germany).
Updates for ISEE-3/ICE
After this comic was published, it was established that an 18-meter satellite dish at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory does still have the right hardware.
- April 4, 2014: Volunteers started a crowdfunding project on RocketHub to contact the probe and put it back into a halo orbit orbit around Lagrangian point L1."ISEE-3 reboot"
- May 23, 2014: First contact to the probe was established.
- May 29, 2014: NASA gave them approval to try to achieve contact.
- May 30, 2014: The project, led by Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing, had taken control of the spacecraft.
- July 2, 2014: The reboot project successfully fired the thrusters for the first time since 1987. The engines on ISEE-3 performed a successful spin-up burn. The spin rate was changed to 19.76 rpm which is inside of the original mission specifications at 19.75 +/- 0.2 rpm.
- Further attempts to change the trajectory into an earth bound orbit did fail. Despite the effort from experts and amateurs via the internet  it was determined that the spacecraft had run out of nitrogen pressurant.
- Since the device was still communicating, and many of the instruments were still working, the ISEE-3 was intended to be used for the first citizen science, crowd funded, crowd sourced, interplanetary space science mission.
- Contact was finally lost on 2014-09-16.
See Space College: ISEE-3 Reboot Project Archives for the coverage of this amazing project.
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