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First Things First
January 18, 2006


Our 20-story tall Atlas on the stand at LC-41, KSC. When conditions allow, she'll loft New Horizons to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, going supersonic barely 30 seconds after the ignition of its six powerful main-stage engines.

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

Just a quick note to those following the launch campaign for New Horizons: We'll launch when everything is right.

On Tuesday, winds kept us from launching, and thank goodness. In retrospect, because if that hadn't happened, we'd have been bit on flight day one by the storms that sent our mission control center onto emergency backup power this morning. Instead of a scrubbed launch attempt, as we had today, we would more likely have been operating a brand new spacecraft under less-than-ideal mission control conditions. That's a risky enough proposition to get into by accident in flight, but I was not willing this morning to proceed into launch and early mission ops with this as our opening bid for how we choose to fly New Horizons. As a result, we stood down.

We will try again soon, most likely on Thursday.

I have been involved in about 20 space missions — ranging from suborbital to Shuttle or ESA and NASA Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV) missions. Only eight of those have launched on their first attempt. Two took more than five attempts.

When I think of a launch operation, with a complex spacecraft, a complex launch vehicle, range safety, weather, and a distributed ground network and mission control to coordinate, I mentally picture a combination lock with 10,000 or so tumblers in it, all of which have to line up to be "GO" to launch.

So, let's put first things first: Our first objective is to ensure we get the goods at Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Our second objective is to get there for an early arrival date. But objective No. 2 is a very distant second to objective No. 1.

So, stay tuned! The A-train to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt will be leaving town shortly, when everything is in the groove, but not before.

-- Alan Stern