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Death of a pioneer

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11:24am, March 5, 2003

Pioneer 10, the first spacecraft to venture to the edge of the solar system, appears to have sent its last signal to Earth. NASA's Deep Space Network of radio receivers last recorded a feeble signal from the venerable craft on Jan. 22, when it was 82 times as far from Earth as the sun is. Another search on Feb. 7 for a signal failed, and NASA plans no further attempts to contact the craft. Engineers propose that Pioneer 10's radioactive power source has finally become too weak for the craft to contact Earth.

Launched in 1972, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to pass through the asteroid belt, the swath of rocky debris that lies between

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