The Pluto Perspective

Posted on July 9, 2020

Memories of an Amazing Encounter

Phoning Home

Becca Sepan

New Horizons lead flight controller

Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Becca Sepan (center) and fellow New Horizons spacecraft and operations team members make their way to the floor of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory's Kossiakoff Center to celebrate the successful Pluto flyby on July 14, 2015. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute)

My favorite part of the Pluto flyby experience was the evening of July 14, 2015, when we got the signal indicating New Horizons had safely flown through the Pluto system and successfully recorded the expected amount of data. Because at that point there was nothing we could do to change the outcome, I felt more nervous waiting for that signal than I did when we were recovering the spacecraft from the anomaly 10 days before.

A feeling of relief and euphoria washed over me when that signal came through: we knew then that our efforts over the past decade-plus, and especially over the past 10 days, had paid off. After we received all the telemetry we needed I released the NASA Deep Space Network operators in Madrid with our thanks, telling them "we're going to go celebrate now!"

I don't think anyone on the team expected the huge crowds cheering us on as we walked into the Kossiakoff Center on the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab campus. Seeing our families and all the other supporters who had come out was so heartwarming. A second wave of euphoria came over me at that moment, one in which I felt incredibly humbled to be a part of something so extraordinary.

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