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NASA's New Horizons is On its Way to Pluto

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2006

image Editor's update 4:20 pm EST: New Horizons' PI Alan Stern just announced that the spacecraft is carrying some of Clyde Tombaugh's ashes. Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930.

Success! NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has launched at 2:00 pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a fast-moving Atlas V rocket. It's headed for a distant rendezvous with the mysterious planet Pluto almost a decade from now.

The third time was the charm for New Horizons. Two consecutive launch attempts earlier in the week were foiled by high winds at the launch site and a power outage at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., which operates the spacecraft now that the mission is underway.

As the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its moon Charon, New Horizons looks to unlock one of the solar system's last, great planetary secrets. After launch aboard an Atlas V, the New Horizons spacecraft will cross the entire span of the solar system and conduct flyby studies of Pluto and Charon in 2015. The seven science instruments on the piano-sized probe will shed light on the bodies' surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres.

The first 13 months of the mission include spacecraft and instrument checkouts, instrument calibrations and trajectory correction maneuvers. There will also be rehearsals for an encounter with Jupiter in spring 2007, in which the giant planet will provide a slingshot-like gravity boost that could save New Horizons up to three years of flight time. This encounter will be followed by an approximately 8-year interplanetary cruise to Pluto.

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