NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
Posted on January 21, 2021
Anne J. Verbiscer
New Horizons Assistant Project Scientist
University of Virginia
When New Horizons was set to launch in January 2006, I was not affiliated with the mission or team, but many close friends and colleagues were. At that time, I was a research scientist in Charlottesville, Virginia, a mere 12-hour drive away from the Cape, and I seriously considered making the trip. Logistics, however, got in the way. I wrestled with finding childcare for my two elementary school-aged daughters and someone to watch our dog. We had made the trip 3 1/2 years prior to watch the CONTOUR launch, but that one was during summer vacation when the girls would not have to miss school.
I ended up watching the launch from my office at the University of Virginia. I recall that it was a brilliantly sunny, but cold, day and a beautiful launch. As the rocket climbed higher and higher with astonishing speed, I wished the spacecraft and its team well. The Pluto flyby still seemed a long way off, but the successful launch was such an important milestone. If all continued to go well, New Horizons would reveal what Pluto and Charon looked like and even a yet-to-be-discovered Kuiper Belt object. The future was indeed as bright as the plume that New Horizons was riding atop the Atlas rocket, and I looked forward to the years of exploration to come.
New Horizons soars above the clouds shortly after liftoff on Jan. 19, 2006. (Credit: Henry Throop)
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