The Pioneer 10 spacecraft has breathed its last transmission [news story, Feb. 26], 7.6 billion miles from Earth and years removed from a time and place that coincided with my senior year in high school. I recall its launch in 1972, and I was amazed to read about the longevity of its mission.

So many events have occurred in our world since Pioneer's departure, and how insignificant they seem compared with the places the spacecraft has visited and the distance it has traveled.

For some reason, I began to cry when I was reading about Pioneer. Perhaps because our world has moved away from such "can-do" optimism to become one in which anxiety and worry are the norm. Or maybe I just felt empathy for this 570-pound "being." Pioneer was a lonely traveler that never complained despite the odds against success and its years of toiling in obscurity. I feel sad that it can no longer keep in touch as it plods on.

Traveling 7.6 billion miles is something I can barely fathom in the farthest reaches of my mind. Our society is indebted to the dreamers who had the courage to imagine such a mission 31 long years ago.

STACEY WARING

Oakton