Tuesday, July 14, 2015

PLUTO!!

For the first time in the history of humans, and likely the last time in my life, a human spacecraft flew past our former ninth planet! Growing up, for my generation, there were nine planets, four rocky inner ones and four gas giant outer ones, and Pluto. Then in 2005 they started to discover others like Pluto, in similar orbits of similar sizes, and some even have moons. However, call it nostalgia, but growing up there were nine planets. 

Due to orbital mechanics, which I did get an A in my sophomore year of college, the speed required to get there in only nine years meant there was basically no way, short of another $300 million dollars or so for fuel, that we could stay for long. So we flew by this morning at 30,800 miles per hour. We have the best full frame photo already, it was sent back before the closest approach in case the spacecraft hits something and we lose everything else. Fortunately there is much more to come, 99% of the science will be sent back over the next 16 months, and we will learn so much more about the composition of Pluto and Charon. As I write this New Horizons sent the all safe signal this evening, meaning it did not hit anything during the fly by! 

New Horizons was launched while I was in college, getting my aerospace engineering degree. It is kind of "my" mission. It's the one on a shoestring budget, going to a far away place, with just a couple days to do 95% of the work. It's like going to climb a new route on an unmapped island that presumably has climbing routes. It's exploration. 

Honestly, just go directly to the source, most of the images are posted when they are received and commentary of the scientists help explain what we are looking at: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu

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