In January 2006, I’d just wrapped up a year working at the planetarium at the Museum of Science.
At the time I could have told you exactly what was visible in that night’s sky. I could have told you which planets were in retrograde and I could have told you where to point your junior telescope to see something interesting.
Also in January of 2006 – nearly 10 years ago – NASA launched a new and ambitious mission. One that would take a decade and three billion miles to complete. A flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft.
That icy underdog that was just eight months away from being reclassified as a dwarf planet.
One of the largest of the icy “Kuiper Belt objects,” Pluto and its largest moon Charon will add important knowledge to our understanding of the objects at the edge of our solar system.
Interestingly, Pluto is the only planet(like object) in our solar system whose atmosphere is escaping into space. This flyby could help us understand important things about our own atmosphere as well.
In February of 2007, I don’t even know what I was doing because it was so long ago I can’t quite remember clearly.
But at that time the New Horizons spacecraft was determinedly chugging along, passing that popular gas giant, Jupiter. Slingshoting off that planet’s gravity cut three year’s off the weary spacecraft’s journey while capturing over 700 separate observations of the Jovian system.
In December of 2011, New Horizons drew closer to Pluto than any spacecraft has ever been.
And on July 14, 2015, 3463 days after its mission began, New Horizons made it’s closest flyby of Pluto, capturing so much data that it will take us 16 months to download it all.
I don’t know what to say other than that. It’s incredible. It’s incredible what can be accomplished with a passionate team of people and a whole lot of patience.
Congratulations, New Horizons, you made it.