This morning, at 11:49:57 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) the American space probe New Horizons (by NASA’s New Frontiers program) made its closest approach to the planetoid (or planet, for all you “dwarf” planet classification haters) Pluto (♇). This is HUGE… like, my-head-is-gonna-explode huge. Like “one giant leap for mankind” big. So big, that we spent all day having fun researching for this and for fun. Now since this is still a work in progress, let me give you a step-by-step walk through of New Horizons’ 3,000,000,000+ mile journey, from its launch in 2006, all the way to the outer edges of our solar system.

-Ignition and Stage Separation
This is always the most riveting part of any space mission. With all of the very recent rocket failures happening very soon after launch, we cross our fingers even harder for the safe escape of New Horizons. Liquid hydrogen engines spark and ignite. The probe rids itself of its first-stage Common Core Booster, second-stage Centaur booster, and (inhale…) its Boeing solid-propellant STAR 48B third-stage motor (exhale…). When the third stage detaches, it’s traveling at almost 10 miles a second. At that rate, you could get from New York to Los Angeles in 4-5 minutes.

-Making Use of Jupiter’s Gravity Well
Imagine you’re rollerskating through an amusement park. You skate by the carousel, but this is no ordinary carousel. This is a turbo speed kiddie ride. You grab onto a pole and you’re thrown, zipping past all the other rides to your destination. Now change the amusement park to outer space, yourself to New Horizons, and the carousel to Jupiter. That’s pretty much how we used Jupiter to speed things up.

-Catching Some Zzzzzzs
To conserve power, New Horizons took naps between Jupiter and Pluto.

-The Morning Alarm Clock
Once a year until the final wakeup, NASA turned New Horizons on to make sure the antennae were pointed the right way and make sure all systems were okay to observe Pluto.

-The Final Approach
The last few weeks, pictures with increasing clarity have been coming in, and as of now, the clearest photo of Pluto ever was received by Earth. It will continue to snap pictures until it soars out of sight.

-Phone Home
After going dark to gather data, New Horizons’ hopeful thumbs-up with reams of photos should come by 8:50, but photos to be disclosed tomorrow.

This may be a huge milestone in space exploration, but I assure you that we have many more to come. Remember to look for the new photos being released tomorrow morning!

P.S.: We would love to hear of your favorite space mission in the comments.

7.15.2015: The “Heart” region of Pluto was just named Tombaugh Regio after the discoverer.


It’s an amazing world of science…let’s go exploring!

NASA Press Kit

28 Comments Add yours

  1. That was a very exciting telling of this momentous occasion! Start to finish it was an edge-of-seat ride! And I know there is so much more to come. Were you able to join the NASA TV broadcast during this morning’s actual moment of flyby at closest approach? And this evening’s re-acquisition of signal from the space craft?

    Thank you for all the information you researched and brought to us here! It’s always a joy to read your explorations!

  2. Yes to all! It has been an all day Pluto affair! Imagine, reaching the outermost edges of our solar system. It is a big big deal. it has been so exciting! We are adding a photo of a PLUTO project….lol.

  3. Great job! I loved reading your piece. I’m old enough to remember all of the original Apollo missions including man’s first walk on the moon, which to this day still blows my mind. We always watched the launches as a family no matter what hour it was. Those are great memories that I cherish.

  4. They are wonderful memories. So many missions are going on right now that some people take it for granted but they are still magical! Thank you so much for stopping by.

  5. I’m so excited to see the pictures – the ones we already have are cool, I am getting my hopes up for the rest!

  6. Isn’t it great to be able to get to LA from NY in 4-5 minutes!! I’ve always found Pluto fascinating (also Jupiter ,Saturn..) and this mission is truly a momentous one!

  7. Shalzzz says:

    Thanks for the information. I couldn’t watch as I was held up in office. I wanted to see the ‘heart’y Pluto!

  8. Oh, I like the photo of a PLUTO project! Tomorrow morning you should be getting so much more to add! I can’t wait to see. 🙂

  9. Prajakta says:

    Oh wow! I read about it in the newspapers but I understand it a lot more here. Pluto has always been my favourite planet (No reason – and it is still a planet in my head) and I like we get to say hello. Using Jupiter was cool – I thought it is only in movies such things happen.
    The only mission I remember is the one which had Kalpana Chawla and of course, the latest ISRO ones.

  10. True that. The world of science is so intriguing. I love these space missions and going as fas as pluto is such an achievement! 🙂 And thank you so much for the information. I really appreciate it.

  11. There are so many wonderful missions going on with side benefits that benefit us all. Thank you for stopping by.

  12. Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian-American astronaut and a credit to all women & women astronauts. She is an inspiration.
    This is real life and amazing!! Thank you for stopping by.

  13. Yes! It is like a beautiful message. So much has been done to that image…lol. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  14. It is momentous. To reach the outer limits of our solar system is amazing and an example of what can happen when we work together!

  15. It is exciting! I read the news yesterday and you explain it even more details! Thanks!!

  16. So exciting and just the beginning! Thank you for stopping by.

  17. Thank you for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed it!

  18. Cecilia says:

    I am totally “space-fascinated”! I couldn’t wait to see Pluto close-ups. And yes, I’m looking forward to what still will come. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Todays NASA media briefing was awesome!! Thanks for stopping by.

  20. dilip says:

    Brilliant article on Pluto which never had attracted interest before. And naturally now the world media is all abuzz with news.
    Thanks for this insightful piece and waiting for more 🙂

  21. The buzz for many might be because of the “Tombaugh Regio” …lol. It really is exciting. Thank you for stopping by.

  22. I’ve been getting many NASA posts for this on my LinkedIn feed. It’s exciting and fascinating. Hugs! 🙂

  23. Yes. It is exciting for everyone!! Hugs back!

  24. YellowCable says:

    Cool sequence of events. I just saw a high res picture of Pluto. Amzaing!

  25. We saw one from behind Pluto. That was really something else. Thank you for stopping by.

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