NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
Posted on January 21, 2021
New Horizons Co-investigator
Southwest Research Institute
I brought my son with me to attend the New Horizons launch. I still have the email I sent to his teachers saying he would miss a couple days of school: "I got him an invitation to join me to see the launch of the New Horizons spacecraft from Cape Canaveral in Florida. He'll also get to go to the press briefing, the mission party, a tour of Kennedy Space Center, and a few surprises he doesn't know about yet. This is a space mission to Pluto (I'm on the science and mission operations team). Launches are very 'iffy' things, they can get delayed for all sorts of reasons (weather, technical problems, etc.), so I hope we will actually get to see it launch, and that it will be something that he remembers well because he will be 19 years old by the time it arrives at Pluto!"
The teachers were enthusiastically supportive of this excuse, though he did get some homework to do on the trip.
Unfortunately, the experience didn't go smoothly for us. In an email I sent to others on the team on Jan. 16, 2006 (the day before the nominal launch), I explained why we missed a tour event: "Unfortunately, he got sick almost as soon as we got here (interestingly, after a visit to Disney World). Started with headaches and progressed to what may be the flu. I now know the location of Cape Canaveral Hospital, as we spent last night until early this morning in the emergency room. We have been laying low here at the hotel. They were kind enough to upgrade us to a room with a bath and a kitchen so we can be more self-sufficient as he recovers (to get that upgrade, a guy from the Coast Guard very, very kindly traded his room since the hotel was sold out)."
As it turns out, he got better the next day, but the launch that day was scrubbed due to weather conditions, and we unfortunately had to fly back on the following day, Jan. 18. Although we missed seeing that launch in person, we got to see it online and celebrated vicariously with the rest of the team. (He finally did get to see a launch in person three years later, when he joined me to see the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launch.)
He has grown up with New Horizons, it being a regular topic of discussion around the dinner table for as long as he can remember, and although he didn't see the launch in person, he got to experience the other bookmark of the mission in July 2015, when my family joined me at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland for the Pluto flyby.
A crowd including mission team members, families and friends follow coverage of the New Horizons Pluto flyby at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on July 14, 2015. (Credit: NASA)
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