When NASA launched a space-weather probe called ISEE-3 in 1978, Jimmy Carter was president, the Commodores' Three Times a Lady topped the charts and sci-fi fans had seen only one Star Wars movie: the original.
Thirty-six years and five Star Wars movies later, the craft, unused by NASA since 1997, is again the talk of the space world.
A group of garage engineers — ranging from a 23-year-old former University of Central Florida student to an 81-year-old ex-NASA official — wants to get the bookshelf-sized probe working again when it whips by the moon this summer. The aim is to restart its mission of monitoring space weather and — if the group can pull it off — send it to study an incoming comet in 2018.
"This is something that has never been done before," said Robert Farquhar, a former NASA manager who worked with the spacecraft in the 1980s.
But waking the probe is no easy task. Not only do team members have to figure out how to "talk" to the spacecraft and give it commands, but they'll also have to do it without funding from NASA, which says the project has little scientific value.
Jacob Gold is part of the new effort. The former University of Central Florida student said he has been developing a virtual model of ISEE-3.
His computer image will allow team members to test the power and timing of the craft's maneuvers so that when the time comes, they can set it on the right course.
"I'm actually pretty optimistic about this working," said Gold, who grew up in Weston and is now attending the University of Arizona studying aerospace engineering. "It's by no means guaranteed. But we have a lot of good people on the project."