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New Horizons Survives Historic Encounter With Pluto

New Horizons spacecraft has survived the 4.7 billion km journey to Pluto

Pluto

Stunning new image of the dwarf planet was released on Tuesday by NASA.

The image was taken by the spacecraft at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. Signals from “New Horizons” shows the icy planet’s surface from 476,000 miles away. Images from the moment of the closest approach on July 14 will be released by NASA on Wednesday July 15. Data from July 13 suggests the spacecraft suffered no upsets as it hurtled past Pluto at 14km/s (31,000mph).

The 4.7 billion km journey to Pluto by New Horizons spacecraft is a monumentous achievement by NASA.

The BBC reports:

The signal came through a giant dish in Madrid, Spain – part of a Nasa network of communications antennas.

The message took four hours 25 minutes to traverse 4.7 billion km of space.

The tension mounted as scientists and engineers at mission headquarters in Laurel, Maryland, waited for telemetry information. So there was joy and relief when the signal was received at 01:52 BST; team members cheered, hugged each other and waved American flags.

“We are in lock with telemetry from the spacecraft,” said mission operations manager Alice Bowman as confirmation was received.

“We have a healthy spacecraft, we have recorded data from the Pluto system, and we are outbound from Pluto.”

A few minutes later, she added: “I can’t express how I feel. It’s just like we planned it!”

Nasa’s administrator Charles Bolden said: “With this mission, we have visited every single planet in the Solar System.”

The agency’s science chief John Grunsfeld commented: “This is a tremendous moment in human history,” adding: “The spacecraft is full of images and we can’t wait.”

Pluto

Operations manager Alice Bowman confirmed that New Horizons’ solid state recorder should be full of data.

“The expected number of segments on that recorder had been used. That tells us that that data has been collected on the spacecraft,” she explained.

The signal received on Wednesday morning contained only engineering data, and was designed to tell controllers whether the flyby sequence had been carried out properly. The first high-resolution pictures from the flyby should be downlinked later on Wednesday.

Nasa’s administrator Charles Bolden said: “With this mission, we have visited every single planet in the Solar System.”

The agency’s science chief John Grunsfeld commented: “This is a tremendous moment in human history,” adding: “The spacecraft is full of images and we can’t wait.”

Operations manager Alice Bowman confirmed that New Horizons’ solid state recorder should be full of data.

“The expected number of segments on that recorder had been used. That tells us that that data has been collected on the spacecraft,” she explained.

The signal received on Wednesday morning contained only engineering data, and was designed to tell controllers whether the flyby sequence had been carried out properly. The first high-resolution pictures from the flyby should be downlinked later on Wednesday.

Ralph Semmel, director of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where mission control is based, congratulated the mission team.

“What has Pluto given us? Whales, doughnuts, and a heart,” he said, referring to informal names for surface features in images taken during the spacecraft’s approach.

Team members had expressed confidence the flyby would go well, but there was a very small possibility that New Horizons could be lost as it sped through the Pluto system.

Any stray icy debris would have been lethal if it had collided with the spacecraft at its 14km/s velocity .

James Christy, who discovered Pluto’s moon Charon, joined relatives of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the dwarf planet itself in 1930, at mission control to witness receipt of the signal.

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Gorgeous Pluto! The dwarf planet has sent a love note back to Earth via our New Horizons spacecraft, which has traveled more than 9 years and 3+ billion miles. This is the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before the moment of closest approach, which was at 7:49 a.m. EDT Tuesday – about 7,750 miles above the surface — roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth. This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface. Images from closest approach are expected to be released on Wednesday, July 15. Image Credit: NASA #nasa #pluto #plutoflyby #newhorizons#solarsystem #nasabeyond #science

A photo posted by NASA (@nasa) on

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