New Horizons almost at Pluto

Ever since I learned of the New Horizons mission to Pluto a few days ago, I have been riveted. The sheer madness and engineering that went into planning and executing a probe that would travel for nearly a decade to reach its destination and return with more information than we’ve ever had about Pluto.

This was the best photo we had of Pluto before the New Horizons probe.
Pluto, as seen by The Hubble

The New Horizon fly by is tomorrow morning. NASA TV will be showing coverage starting at 7:30am Eastern. I am excited to get up and watch tomorrow morning. It’s so cool to me to be able to see something for the very first time. It’s amazing to witness the new discovery of a ball of ice floating through space. To think that now, we only have big, blurry images of Pluto provided by the Hubble Space Telescope. But tomorrow, we will have hi-resolution photos.

The NY Times has a longer, 13 minute video with more in-depth coverage and an excellent article to go with it.

It’s hard to write these words and know what they might feel like 50 years from now. I never dreamed, when Apollo astronauts left the moon in 1972, that there might come a day when there was nobody still alive who had been to the moon. But now it seems that could come to pass. How heartbreaking is that?

The New Horizons Probe
New Horizons probe

The Washington Post has a nail-biting article on the moment when the team lost the probe and wasn’t sure if it would come back.

The people in the Mission Operations Center — “the MOC” — had been tracking NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft for 9½ years as it journeyed the breadth of the solar system. It was just 10 days away from the dwarf planet Pluto when, at 1:55 p.m. on July 4, it vanished.

Gone.

“OUT OF LOCK,” a computer screen declared.

No more data, no connection at all. As if the spacecraft had plunged into a black hole. Or hit an asteroid and disintegrated.

The probe was OK. And tomorrow, it completes its historic flyby of Pluto. It will take as many photos as it can and take readings of the planets atmosphere. Then, turn its dish around and send all the data back to earth, at 1 kilobyte per second and it will take 4.5 hours for the data to start arriving on earth. That’s 56 times slower than dial-up across 4 billion miles of space.

Photo from the New Horizons project page.