NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
Posted on January 21, 2021
New Horizons Project Manager (2004-2015)
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
In early November of 2005, a hurricane came through central Florida. At Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, we put the New Horizons spacecraft back into its shipping container as a safety precaution. And, the crew that was assembling the Atlas V rocket shut down to "safe" the rocket and assembly gear two days prior to the storm hitting the area. I remember going out to the launch pad to see how the assembly of the five solid rocket motors being attached to the Atlas V first stage was proceeding. I was slightly surprised that they were closing down so early and thought that they had time to attach one more of the solid booster rockets.s
The morning after the storm passed through I was on my way back to Maryland to report our progress to management at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory when I got a call from our Kennedy Space Center mission manager. He told me that the storm had ripped off the seven story door of Vehicle Assembly Building and the assembly team was assessing the damage. It turned out that one of the rocket boosters was damaged and had to be removed from the assembly. Luckily there was one spare! I have often thought how fortunate we were that they stopped the assembly process when they did; otherwise we might not have been able to get New Horizons off the ground in 2006 and would just have gotten to Pluto in 2020!
Glen Fountain in a Kennedy Space Center cleanroom with New Horizons, just before the spacecraft was encapsulated in its protective launch fairing, in December 2005. (Credit: Johns Hopkins APL)
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