20 January 2006

A New Horizon

    It was so awe-inspiring to watch something like this. It’s something you can’t put into words. You just feel it.
      Annette Tombaugh-Sitze
      (her father, Clyde Tombaugh, discovered Pluto)

The New Horizons spacecraft has begun 3-billion-mile trip to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. It was nine hours to the moon's orbit, it will be nine years to Pluto. Next year it gets a bit of a boost from Jupiter's gravity.

I had the NASA TV feed on, so I was able to catch the whole launch. Once they lost sight of the rocket from the ground, they switched to a cool 3-D rendering that updated based on live telemetry data. After that, during the third stage burn, it was just a shot of a launch controller watching the telemetry data as it rolled of the printer. Kind of a low-tech finale, but it was neat to watch. Clyde Tombaugh's widow was there for the launch of the probe, which carried some his ashes onboard.

This is the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth. Despite that fact, it will take at least nine years for it to reach Pluto, illustrating how incredibly far away Pluto is. I told one of my daughters that she'd be driving by the time the probe gets to Pluto. "Wow," she said. Wow indeed.


Anonymous said...

I'm really excited about this. We've been waiting for a Pluto mission for a long time. My only "beef" is the name. I wish it were called the Tombaugh mission or something.

Still, I look forward to seeing the surface of Pluto (in detail) for the first time.


Andrew said...

Yeah, I wonder why that is. I couldn't find the origin of the name on their web site.

At least the probe is carrying some of Tombaugh's ashes.