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May 2005

New Horizons Indeed

A 'New' Idea

I recall taking a long Saturday run across Boulder to work on ideas of my own. I quickly decided that the very positive word "New" should be part of the name for PKB, for it was new in so many ways. "Darn," I thought, "New Frontiers had been soooo close, it was too bad it might be too risky for NASA. What to do?"

Then, as I waited for a streetlight to change near the intersection of Foothills and Arapahoe and looked west to the Rocky Mountains on the horizon, it just hit me. We could call it "New Horizons"— for we were seeking new horizons to explore at Pluto and Charon and the Kuiper Belt, and we were pioneering new horizons programmatically too as the first-ever PI-led outer planets mission.


Pluto and Charon: exploring new horizons!

What a great, forward-looking, positive metaphor for exploration (which, after all, is about traveling from one horizon to another)! Horizons are such pleasant things - like rainbows - nobody, I thought, could find a black cloud connotation lurking in a name like New Horizons. It was easy to say, easy to remember, and it symbolized what the mission would be doing in two important ways. I liked this moniker. I could tell it was right as I ran farther.

I slept on it, and it still sounded good, so on Feb. 4 I asked the science team to vote on New Horizons and a couple of the remaining contenders. New Horizons won hands down (" Houston, we have a name!"). The e-mail I sent out announcing the result of the vote was dated late on Monday evening, Feb. 5, 2001.

With this, the deed of naming our proposed mission was done, though it had taken almost two months and about a dozen false starts. I recall thinking back then: If we win this competition, and if Congress finds the funding to make this mission happen, if the mission can stay on track technically and within budget so that it actually reaches the launch pad, and if it all works in flight — if all these things go our way — then "New Horizons" will be found in text books and encyclopedias as the name of the spaceship that first explored the last of the nine classical planets.

Someday, I told myself, I'll have to write down how the name came to be.

- Alan Stern

< Part 2: Name Games