An image of Pluto captured in high-resolution by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on 14 July 2015. The spacecraft studied the dwarf planet before beginning its journey towards MU69. Credit: NASA/JHUAP/SwRI
NASA mission scientists, astronomers and an expectant international audience celebrated yesterday as New Horizons sent the message back to Earth everyone had been waiting for: the spacecraft had completed the first ever flyby of Pluto.
Just before 9pm EDT (1pm UTC) on 14 July 2015, the pre-programmed ‘phone call’ was received as a 15-minute series of messages sent back to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland via NASA’s Deep Space Network.
New Horizons had been programmed to collect information and send the news back to Earth once it was beyond the Pluto system.
“I know today we’ve inspired a whole new generation of explorers with this great success, and we look forward to the discoveries yet to come,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
“This is a historic win for science and for exploration.
We’ve truly, once again raised the bar of human potential.”
“With the successful flyby of Pluto we are celebrating the capstone event in a golden age of planetary exploration,” says John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
“While this historic event is still unfolding – with the most exciting Pluto science still ahead of us – a new era of solar system exploration is just beginning. NASA missions will unravel the mysteries of Mars, Jupiter, Europa and worlds around other suns in the coming years.”
Now, New Horizons is continuing its journey deeper into the Kuiper Belt, where it will begin examinations to learn more about how the Solar System formed.
The data will take 16 months to fully reach Earth.
“Following in the footsteps of planetary exploration missions such as Mariner, Pioneer and Voyager, New Horizons has triumphed at Pluto,” says New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
“The New Horizons flyby completes the first era of planetary reconnaissance, a half century long endeavour that will forever be a legacy of our time.”
“On behalf of everyone at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, I want to congratulate the New Horizons team for the dedication, skill, creativity, and determination they demonstrated to reach this historic milestone,” says APL Director Ralph Semmel.
“We are proud to be a part of a truly amazing team of scientists, engineers, and mission operations experts from across our nation who worked tirelessly to ensure the success of this mission.”