The Pluto Perspective

Posted on July 9, 2020

Memories of an Amazing Encounter

We Are Family

Cathy Olkin

New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist

Southwest Research Institute

After working for more than a decade on New Horizons, it was hard to believe we were finally approaching Pluto. It seemed like a fictional year when I started on the project, but now we were in 2015. I spent a lot of time at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland that year, especially that summer, and was there for most of June and July. So when I couldn't be with my son for his birthday, I asked my friends and family at APL to wish him a happy birthday in pictures. I often say that it takes many different types of people to make a NASA mission successful; in the pictures I sent to Zach – one of which is below - you see not only scientists and engineers, but team members from mission communications, management, NASA headquarters and other areas getting together to wish Zach a happy 15th birthday.

Pluto astounded us all and we continue to learn more about this icy world at the edge of our solar system - but many of my memories from the encounter center around friends. Our science instrument teams are distributed across the country and the Ralph team is an extreme example of that. In this picture you see three of us from the Ralph team: Eddie Weigle (who lives in Kansas), me (Colorado) and Allen Lunsford (Maryland). But during the Pluto encounter, rather than exchanging emails and phone calls, we were able to work together in person. It was great to have the team in one place!

When you work with people for so long, they become family. After the successful Pluto encounter, we had one more thing to celebrate. In the lobby of the building where we had worked for weeks, we celebrated the marriage of science team member Paul Schenk to his husband. The lead of our geology and geophysics investigation, Jeff Moore, officiated. What a mix of family and friends and science!

(Photos courtesy of Cathy Olkin)

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