The Pluto Perspective

Posted on January 21, 2021

The Pluto Perspective: A Launch to Remember

A Bright Future

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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