We Come in Peace from Earth – Third Planet from the Sun

In April 1972, NASA launched the Pioneer 10 spacecraft which was intended to explore the planet Jupiter and its moons. Then it would assume a course that would carry it out of our galaxy. Etched on the side of the spacecraft was a message of peace, a depiction of human life and a map that would help an intelligent life form encountering the spacecraft determine where it came from. Hmmmmm.
Pioneer 10 exceeded all expectations and exited the Solar System. Unfortunately, contact with the spacecraft has now been lost. The last successful contact with the spacecraft was in January 2003 – more than thirty years after its launch. The spacecraft received and executed two commands from a distance of 7.82 billion miles (yes, that was billion). The distance was so great that it took NASA’s message eleven hours to reach the spacecraft and another eleven hours for Pioneer 10’s acknowledgement of the commands to reach NASA. Shortly thereafter, contact was lost. It is interesting to note that contact with Pioneer 10 was not lost because its eight watt radio could no longer reach out and touch NASA, but rather because the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) failed. Basically, its nuclear batteries died.
With the failure of the RTG, Pioneer 10 is probably tumbling out of control on a heading in the general direction of Aldebaran – the star which is the eye of Taurus. Assuming that nothing intercepts Pioneer 10 sooner, it will take 200 million years to reach its destination.
If on the other hand, Pioneer 10 encounters something in space, these are some things to consider. Pioneer 10, about the size of a PT Mini Cruiser, is traveling at about 28,000 miles per hour or about 12.5 times the speed of an M16 rifle bullet. This is before taking into consideration any increase in speed due to the acceleration of gravity as the spacecraft approaches a body in space. If Pioneer 10 approaches a body with an atmosphere, it will almost certainly burst into flames from the frictional heating. If anything survives the flames, it will leave a substantial crater. The impact with the surface will spew radioactive dust from the Plutonium-238 core used to generate electricity. This could render a large area uninhabitable due to radiation. Accordingly, if intelligent life forms encounter Pioneer 10, they will probably see a faster than you can possibly imagine, wildly tumbling, flaming, radioactive vehicle that wipes out several dozen square miles.
We come in peace from Earth – third planet from the Sun. God, I hope they can’t read that map.