NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
On the anniversary of New Horizons’ launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on January 19, 2006, mission team members reflect on liftoff, a busy first three years of flight and the ongoing voyage to Pluto and beyond.
Countdown to Liftoff
To Ralph McNutt, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), launch wasn’t just a beginning – it was the culmination of a hard-fought, nearly two-decade-long battle in the scientific community to secure a mission to the ninth planet.
Science team co-investigator Richard Binzel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology remembers the run-up to launch, a four-year concert of spacecraft design, build and testing, and mission planning that had to reach its crescendo by January 2006, in time to meet a month-long launch period and take advantage of an opportunity to use Jupiter’s gravity as a slingshot toward deeper space.
“The transition from launch to flight is truly phenomenal,” Binzel says. “Before launch, the clock looms so large. Everything has to be ready at the launch window, or else! In cruise phase the pace of hard work continues, but now the responsibility feels different. We know New Horizons will reach Pluto!”
Streaks across the sky: Greg Bolt of Perth, Australia, captured these telescope images of New Horizons and its third-stage rocket after launch. Read about them here.