NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
Posted on January 21, 2021
New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist
Southwest Research Institute
I was a senior undergraduate at the University of Colorado at the time of the New Horizons launch. I was not on the mission, but I was lucky to be in an astronomy major's senior seminar with mission scientist Fran Bagenal. She told the class about the launch, and about how the different launch windows would determine when the spacecraft would arrive at Pluto, because Jupiter would have moved slightly by the time of the later windows. I remember Fran commenting on how that meant the alignment of the planets was directly affecting her life.
By the time New Horizons arrived at Pluto 9½ years later, I had completed my Ph.D. with another scientist on the mission, Bill McKinnon, and had joined New Horizons as a postdoctoral researcher. That was a great experience, so I am grateful the planetary alignment worked out for me, as the timing of the New Horizons trajectory was such that I could join one year before arrival at Pluto.
Artist's impression of the New Horizons gravity assist at Jupiter, which set up the spacecraft's arrival at Pluto in July 2015. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute)
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