Last summer I spent a lot of time writing about the New Horizons mission. It was awe inspiring to be a part of the first mission ever to the celestial body of Pluto. Well to be apart of it from the public’s point of view. I sat at my desk on the morning of the flyby, watching the NASA Eyes app and looking at a real time computer generated image of the flyby. That’s as good as we got as the probe was doing all it’s scientific work during the flyby.
It’s crazy to think that something that reached it’s target this previous summer could already be ten years old.
Spotting the former planet Pluto wasn’t the only new thing that occurred on the mission. Everything about this mission was record setting from the get go. During lift off, there was a third stage specially built by Boeing for this mission that allowed the probe to leave Earth at a speed of more then 36,000 miles per hour, becoming the fastest departure of any spacecraft yet. As if this wasn’t fast enough, 13 months later the mission tested it’s equipment and did a gravity assist around Jupiter that increased the speed by another 9,000 miles per hour.
In January of 2015, distant images of the Pluto System started coming back in. These blurry images were used to make sure the probe was on track and that it wouldn’t run into anything along the way. A small fragment of space dust can make a big problem when traveling at 45,000 miles an hour.
On July 14th, 2015, New Horizons flew by the dwarf planet of Pluto, marking the end of a 50 year mission by NASA to visit every planet in our solar system. Now to be fair, when New Horizon’s launched nine years earlier, Pluto was still a planet. New Horizons has sent back images of soemething that was unknown close up to us just a few years ago. To this day as it flies towards its new destination, images are still being sent across the vastness of space to enthrall the coming generations. Who knows when we will be able to send a probe to the outer reaches of the solar system again, but I know I will remember everything I was doing on that July morning, watching NASA TV and the NASA Eyes app and seeing the excitement from the team when New Horizons flew past Pluto.