Title text: HACK THE STARS
- "1337", this comic's number, redirects here. For the 2007 storyline of the same name, starting with comic 341, see Category:1337.
The probe ISEE-3/ICE is a spacecraft launched on August 12, 1978. The original mission was to study the interaction between the Earth's magnetic field and the solar wind. It was later sent to visit Comet Giacobini-Zinner and became the first spacecraft to do so by flying through a comet's tail.
Its trajectory will bring it close to Earth on August 2014. A status check of the spacecraft has revealed that many of its instruments are still working and that it contains plenty of fuel. But the hardware to communicate with ISEE-3/ICE has been decommissioned, and it will be expensive to reestablish the communication needed to use the spacecraft for another mission.
The characters Crash and Burn (and the catchphrase, "Mess with the best, die like the rest") are an allusion to the 1995 movie Hackers. Since the movie predates the shutdown-signal (1997), the characters should both possess the skills and 'outdated' equipment to understand and hack the signal to the probe.
In the comic, Burn has hacked into the satellite and left the catchphrase to be shown to those who would log into the satellite regularly. She has also rerouted its path to enter the atmosphere at a certain time. She then uses this knowledge to tell Crash in advance at just the right time that a "falling star" will appear in the sky.
The title text "Hack the stars" is also an allusion to the movie Hackers where the Phrase "Hack the Planet!" is used on multiple occasions.
In the Hackers movie, the rivalry between the characters Crash and Burn was to "one up" the other by means of hacking as a measure of how good their skills were. The "falling star" could be the ultimate measure of hacking "leet-ness".
Not coincidentally, this is comic number 1337, which in leet speak means elite (elite hacking, in this case).
Truth & Fiction Explained
This comic involves some truth and some fiction. There is an ISEE-3/ICE probe. According to the Wikipedia article, it was launched in August 12, 1978 and tasked to study Earth's magnetic field and the solar wind. After completing its original mission the probe was repurposed on June 10, 1982 to study the interaction between the solar wind and a cometary atmosphere. This put it in a heliocentric orbit. According to an article by Emily Lakdawalla at Planetary.org, the Deep Space Network (DSN) detected the probe again in 2008 because NASA mistakenly left its transmitters on. The probe is now catching up to Earth, and people on earth can hear its transmissions (and presumably decode them), but the technology that would allow NASA to send commands back to the probe no longer exists, and would be prohibitively expensive to build. The DSN is required because "no other network of antennas in the US has the sensitivity to detect and transmit signals to the spacecraft at such a distance".
From this NASA JPL paper, 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.
It is unknown if any other person or organisation possesses the transmitter technology required to send commands to the spacecraft at this time. If someone were able to hack into the Madrid facility, it's still unlikely that a clear signal would be able to reach the satellite due to interference from other S-band signals.
(With some help from a page at UnmannedSpaceFlight.com.)
- [Panel 1 shows an image of the ISEE-3/ICE spacecraft]
- Narration: The ISEE-3/ICE probe was launched in 1978. Its mission ended in 1997 and it was sent a shutdown signal.
- Narration: 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.
- [Panel 3 shows Megan and Ponytail talking to each other.]
- Megan: We could send it on a new mission... Except we no longer have the equipment to send commands to it.
- Ponytail: Can't we...
- Megan: NASA won't rebuild it. "Too Expensive"
- Ponytail: Seriously?
- Megan: I know, right? So the Internet found the specs and we went to work.
- [Panel 5 shows Megan and Ponytail have walking into an area where a girl and Cueball both are sitting at desks looking at laptops.]
- Narration: We've convinced them to give us time on the Madrid DSN transmitter and hacked the maser to support the uplink. And today's the big day.
- Cueball: Transmitting... We have a signal! We have control!
- Megan: OK, transmit the new comet rendezvous maneuver sequen-
- [Cueball, off panel]: What the hell?
- Megan: What?
- Cueball: My console went dead!
- Girl: Mine too!
- Megan: What's happening?!
- Cueball: There's a new signal going out over the transmitter!
- [Megan, off panel]: A bug?
- Cueball: Someone else is in the system!
- Girl: Kill the connection!
- [Cueball, off panel]: I can't find it!
- Girl: They're firing the probe's engines!
- [Cueball, off panel]: NO!
- [Megan, off panel]: Who's doing this?? Stop them!
- [Girl, off panel]: I'm trying!
- Cueball, pointing to his screen: Look! My screen!
- [Text, on Cueball's laptop screen]: M-E-S-S-W-I-T-H-T-H-E-B-E-S-T D-I-E-L-I-K-E-T-H-E-R-E-S-T
- [Panel 13 shows two people in a pool at night.]
- [Panel 14 zooms out to reveal the pool is on top of a skyscraper in a vertically developed, downtown setting.]
- Burn: Crash?
- Crash: Yeah, Burn?
- Burn: Make a wish.
- [Panel 16 shows the spacecraft streaking across the sky, indistinguishable from a meteoroid.]
- There are several pools in the movie as well. There is a subplot involving a mythical pool on the roof of the high school where several of the characters are students. Additionally, a scene in the movie Hackers ending shows Crash and Burn swimming in a rooftop pool, while several buildings light up with the words "CRASH AND BURN", the result of their friends' latest hack. This scene is similar to the last four panels of the comic.
- The number of the comic is also significant, in that 1337 is a common numeric form of leet, again referring to hackers.
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