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(Extracts from article in The Guardian (Manchester, UK), Saturday March 4, 2000)

Pioneer 10

Image NASA

"Nasa scientists have just heard the faintest peep from an almost forgotten friend. Pioneer 10 the first spacecraft to carry a picture of a nude man and woman in case it ran into any extraterrestrial voyeurs was launched 28 years ago and is 6.9bn miles from the sun."

          My head still stings where Mam belted me.
          She gets so worked up with the
          bairns around and she's expecting again.
          Pray God it's the last.
          Thought things would improve
          when Father left the pit
          to become the village bobby,
          but things are still tight.
          What a noise they're making in the kitchen.
          Still five minutes and I'll be finished
          the wash-house floor,
          then I can start on the bedrooms.

"Its Plutonium powerpack can barely keep it alive. Its electrical signalling equipment delivers about eight watts, the power of a night-light in a child's bedroom."

          Mam's a marvel with the treadle.
          Making nightshirts for us for Christmas,
          I'll help do the dinner.
          She's usually in a wicked temper
          with me on a morning,
          and I keep out of her way
          but I'll just to have to put up with it.
          My head still aches
          and my hands are sore and chapped,
          thank God I got through the washing yesterday.

"In 1992 it began to feel the eerie gravitational tug of a far away region of space called the Kuiper Belt, home of the frozen fragments of matter left over from the making of the solar system. It is now heading towards the edge of the heliosphere, the giant 'bubble' blown by the wind from the sun."

          Four days to go, we've ordered a chicken,
          pushed the boat out, we won't have much else.
          Stockings for the little ones.
          Mam does well for us, we're a cut above the rest.
          The only peace I get
          is when I'm out here scrubbing,
          'maid of all work' Mam calls me.
          She's got her hands full.

"But Pioneer 10 is heading towards the heliopause, the last boundary of the empire of the sun.... And it will go on beyond. It will still be speeding through the Milky Way 5bn years from now, when the sun becomes a red giant and burns up the planet that launched it."

          Well, that's a job well done.
          I'll still be doing the same 10 years from now.
          Can't afford to go
          dancing to meet anyone.
          Life just passes me by, and goes on day in,
          day out, year by year.
          Someone's got to do it.


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