NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
First Things First
January 18, 2006
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
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