On Video: How Do We Get to Pluto? Practice, Practice, Practice

December 13, 2013

For someone who just came back from the future, Mark Holdridge looked pretty relaxed. The New Horizons mission manager sat outside mission control at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory last July 14, watching the closing moments of a weeklong test of both team and spacecraft that replicated the closest nine days of flight toward and past Pluto – almost exactly as it will happen in July 2015.

“We accomplished everything we set out to do, and then some,” said Holdridge, who oversees the effort to plan each step of the New Horizons Pluto encounter. “Everything was very much as it will be in 2015. I think that’s what really allowed us to learn a lot from the experience, figure out how to do things even better.”

For nine days in July 2013, it was July 2015. Operators programmed New Horizons’ onboard computers to “think” the spacecraft was approaching and passing Pluto, to the point it executed each command and movement of the actual encounter. Gathered at APL’s campus in Laurel, Md., mission navigation and operations teams guided spacecraft activity in real time; the science team examined simulated data in the same way they’ll download, analyze and distribute the real stuff when Pluto and its moons slowly reveal their secrets to New Horizons’ seven science instruments.

“This rehearsal is the last big flight-vehicle practice we conduct before the encounter,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute. “Each aspect of it gets us ready for the one and only shot we’ll have to explore the Pluto system.”

New Horizons team members view the Pluto flyby as the Super Bowl of space science – and you don’t walk into the big game without practicing hard. Watch them gear up for this historic encounter on the planetary frontier in the two-part video: “How Do We Get to Pluto? Practice, Practice, Practice”

Part I: The Encounter Begins
- Small mp4 (38 MB, 640x360)
- Large mp4 (116 MB, 1280x720)

Part II: Passing Pluto
- Small mp4 (34 MB, 640x360)
- Large mp4 (102 MB, 1280x720)