New Horizons Reaches Pluto! Everything You Need to Know About NASA's Historic Mission

Tuesday, 14 July 2015 - 9:54AM
Space
Astronomy
Solar System
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 - 9:54AM
New Horizons Reaches Pluto! Everything You Need to Know About NASA's Historic Mission
After more than nine years and three billion miles, the tired New Horizons has finally reached Pluto, making the closest-ever approach to the dwarf planet and making history in the process. Here's everything you need to know about NASA's groundbreaking mission:



New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched


The spacecraft moves at more than 30,000 miles per hour. But the former ninth planet is on the outskirts of our solar system, almost three billion miles away, so it has still taken almost a decade to get to Pluto.

In order to make its closest approach to Pluto, New Horizons was required to "thread the needle" in a mere 36-by-57 mile window of space. According to NASA, this is "the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball." It took one minute less than NASA anticipated back in 2006, coming within 7,750 miles of Pluto's surface at 7:50 am EST.

Opening quote
"The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "Once again we have achieved a historic first."
Closing quote


A lot has changed since New Horizons first launched


The spacecraft launched in 2006, back in the good old days when Pluto was still our ninth planet. At the time, only three of Pluto's moons had been discovered, with Kerberos and Styx joining their ranks in the last few years. Also, 2006 was the year Suri Cruise was born and Snakes on a Plane came out in theaters, just to put this in perspective.

New Horizons is giving us the silent treatment


For now, and according to plan, New Horizons is not in contact with Earth, as it is in data-gathering mode. But it is expected to come back online at approximately 8pm EST tonight, and when it does, it will spend the next 16 months sending a decade's worth of data back to Earth, including our first-ever close-up look at Pluto.

We'll get our closest look at Pluto ever




Although New Horizons won't re-establish contact until tonight, NASA claims that they already have color data from the flyby, and plan to release a new photo on Tuesday. But on Wednesday, the historic close-up photos will finally be published, at ten times the resolution of any previous images. They will be taken from 158,000 times closer range than the previous closest approach, by Voyager 1 in 1989.

What's next?



NASA has several missions currently in the works, but the most high-profile endeavors are the Europa mission and NASA's Mission to Mars. The Europa mission seeks to explore the possibility of a subsurface ocean that can potentially harbor alien life, while the Mission to Mars plans to land a manned mission on the Red Planet by the 2030's. The first unmanned test mission to Mars is set to launch in 2020.

Opening quote
"The New Horizons team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of the Pluto system," said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern. "This mission has inspired people across the world with the excitement of exploration and what humankind can achieve."
Closing quote
Science
NASA
Space
Astronomy
Solar System
New Horizons Reaches Pluto! Learn About NASA's Historic Mission

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