NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
Posted on January 21, 2021
New Horizons roared into the skies aboard a powerful Atlas V rocket at 2 p.m. EST on Jan. 19, 2006. It separated from its solid-fuel kick motor 44 minutes, 53 seconds after launch, and mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., where the spacecraft was designed and built, received the first radio signals from New Horizons a little more than five minutes later. The radio communications, sent through NASA's Deep Space Network antennas in Canberra, Australia, confirmed to controllers that the spacecraft was healthy and ready to begin initial operations.
"Today, NASA began an unprecedented journey of exploration to the ninth planet in the solar system," said Colleen Hartman, then deputy associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, moments after launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. "Right now, what we know about Pluto could be written on the back of a postage stamp. After this mission, we'll be able to fill textbooks with new information."
Some of those books have now been published, others are in the works. To mark the 15th anniversary of the launch that started New Horizons' historic voyage to Pluto – and beyond – members of the mission team share their memories of that landmark event.
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