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Despite capturing the hearts and minds of geeks everywhere (as well as endorsements from astrophysicist and national treasure Neil deGrasse Tyson), NASA is poor.

That means it doesn’t have the cash to take on really cool and worthwhile projects like reclaiming an old satellite that had been abandoned since 1997. The space agency does, however, have enough resources to hire a group of private citizen scientists to do the job for them.

Yesterday NASA did just that, signing a Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreement (NRSAA) with private firm Skycorp. The company is tasked with establishing contact with NASA’s International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) satellite, which was discovered to be functional back in 2008. This will also be the first time NASA has ever commissioned an outside organization to restart an old program.

The ISEE-3 was originally built to study the physics of the solar wind, which it did until its mission ended in 1981. Afterwards, NASA tasked the satellite with studying two relatively nearby comets before taking its place in orbit around the sun.

If Skycorp, which has crowdfunded nearly $150,000 to help finance the mission, is successful in communicating with the satellite it could also end up controlling it as well, according to NASA.

“We have a chance to engage a new generation of citizen scientists through this creative effort to recapture the ISEE-3 spacecraft as it zips by the Earth this summer,” said NASA Science Mission Directorate associate administrator John Grunsfeld in a statement.

Skycorp’s mission will be to put ISEE-3 into a new, gravitationally stable orbit between Earth and our Sun, which will allow the team of scientists to make the satellite operational again so it can resume its original purpose. If unsuccessful, ISEE-3 will end up swinging back toward the moon on its way to orbit the sun.

NASA said any new data from Skycorp’s mission will be shared publicly and “provide valuable information about the effects of the space environment on the 36-year old spacecraft.”

For a closer look at Skycorp’s mission check out the demo video embedded below.


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