The main about going to Pluto is that it is so far away. The earth is almost 100 million away from the sun. Pluto was 30 times that far 3 billion miles away. To get the Pluto in our lifetimes means it has to go very fast. Its average speed is more than 10 miles per second and to do that it had to be light.
One of the unique things about New Horizons is its spacecraft built very light and bought a very large launch vehicle for this and the combination is ferocious gives a very flyout speed. Because it has a very long way to go, Sprinting away from Earth. On launch day, New Horizons crossed the orbit of the moon in just nine hours while Apollo took 3 days. The spacecraft reached Jupiter in 13 months. Galileo took six years but even traveling more than 50 thousand miles per hour, it will still be 2015 before New Horizons reaches Pluto and Charon.
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Why send a spacecraft on such a long and difficult journey into such a challenging environment.?For the science team, it is a voyage back in time to see a close-up of how solar systems form from clouds of gas and dust how Earth and all the other planets were born. The National Academy of Science rated mission to Pluto and beyond, the most important planetary mission of the decade. That is because new horizons could rewrite everything we know about the planets of our solar system.
June 2005 ten full years before arrival at Pluto, the mission operations team runs a detailed simulation of the encounter modeled to the split second. To test the spacecraft still more rigorously. The project decides to use the Jupiter flyby to take the actual scientific observations. They look at the volcanic moon Io. They had studied Jupiter's cloudy surface and Aurora. This will be a wonderful dress rehearsal for the whole process of putting together, A complicated sequence and we only get to do it once at Pluto. So having this practice at Jupiter will very valuable tada.
January 2007 still another simulation, the Jupiter encounter has mission planners working harder than ever. So it is more intense than by several of magnitude than anything they have done. As far as memory usage which translates to the number of commands it is more intense actually than simulation. Before any command sent up to the spacecraft, it is reviewed by a representative team of every subsystem power thermal, data handling as well as the science team. One bad line of code can cripple the spacecraft. The Jupiter encounter has 40,000 of them. Every command runs through a series of computers identical to those up in space. Except that this New Horizons mission simulator is safely on the ground in Maryland.
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February 28, 2007, 45 minutes after midnight GMT, New Horizons closes in on Jupiter. Hours later scientists and engineers gathered at the Applied Physics Laboratory for what they hope will be the first post encounter transmission from the spacecraft. Mission managers coordinate with researchers across America. Experienced stand by its stations dedicated to each instrument and subsystem. The Ace or lead flight controller communicates with NASA's Deep Space Network Statio in Australia.
Alice Bowman is Mission Operations Manager, her professional family includes some of brightest engineers around. Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, NASA said, " today is very important. It is our Jupiter flyby day and of a test is coming right up. We will see if the spacecraft made it through the dangerous radiation at Jupiter. For this milestone in the life of the mission, all hands are on deck."
Nick Pinkine, New Horizons Deputy Mission Operations Manager, JHU-APL, " I would put it somewhere between launch and actually getting to the Pluto. I'd say it is the third most critical activity in the whole timeline. We are really putting the spacecraft through a stress test that is our primary objective but as long as we had a stress we thought it was 700 science observations. "
700 observations, 40,000 commands, science planners work with guidance and control engineers to write a playbook for the encounter. A script for every time tick of the flyby. At Jupiter, New Horizons is on her own. Here on earth, they wait. They will know all is well when screens light up with green text indicating the spacecraft has survived. DSN, Australia confirms that New Horizons has phoned home.
The engineers could tell right away that all spacecraft systems were nominal. But the scientists wanted to see the very first pictures of IO. They have gotten used to fancy computer graphics depicting an imaginary trajectory and volcanic plumes. But the actual images from just in from Jupiter would determine scientific success or failure.
Like Clyde Tombaugh decades earlier they hoped for discoveries. The spacecraft took images hours before but for the researchers, this exploration live and real-time. A camera and spacecraft delivered as promised. The first raw images might be fuzzy but now they knew their aim was true. Computers would be able to clean up them and begin to update the textbooks.
Hal and John rush next door to let the full science team see how their spacecraft was performing. Researchers called out requests to adjust brightness and contrast to reveal details hidden in the pictures. Now they knew for sure they had captured volcano called too vast are spewing its sulfur plume 180 miles up into space. Many of the scientists were veterans of previous missions but precise navigation and s, during which state-of-the-art cameras were revealing the Jupiter system as never before.
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Professional astronomers of course thrill at each new image but the general public also had a role in targeting New Horizons cameras. Alan Stern said," What actually we did is went out to some blog sites where talented amateur astronomers and planetary scientists discuss the latest findings."
Like the student dust counter, this was the first time the public had a chance to shape a deep-space mission. Scientists team asked them and suggest to us some of your best ideas for what we call Kodak moments unique geometries. Out of this process came the idea of snapping IO and Europa lit edge-on by the sun. Stern's favorite captured Europa rising over Jupiter it gives a feeling like you actually at Jupiter and views that you might not expect to have from a spacecraft. As if you were actually there an astronaut making the flyby with New Horizons.
There were seven Kodak moments but New Horizons returned almost 700 observations. Researchers have a very detailed image that shows a much finer structure in Jupiter's ring system. The cameras had been designed to work in the much dimmer light far out at Pluto. But special software helped, record the structure and dynamics of Jupiter's clouds including both the great and little red spots. No spacecraft had made detailed observations since the formation of the little red spot and this is not such a little spot after all. It is as large as the earth practically and we happen to be the first mission to Jupiter. Since the coagulation of smaller storms into the what so called the red spot.
So the spacecraft passed the intentionally extreme stress test with flying colors. Leaving Jupiter New Horizons flies down the planets giant magnetic tail another first for this mission. Then it will be time for 8 years cruise to Pluto with long periods spent in hibernation instruments turned off. Cruise for New Horizons is an eight-year sequence, during which most of the time the spacecraft in hibernation and we do that in part to save money but more importantly to save time. We were in Tehran the electronics. In fact most of the electronic boxes on New Horizons. Although they will be nine and a half years old on reaching Pluto. They will only have between two and three years of on time. So for the practical purposes, the spacecraft is not nine and half years old. But two and a half or three years commands out. Keeping the spacecraft young is one thing. Mission planners also had to think about who would be around to operate the spacecraft.
In 2015, many of the faces we have seen around the New Horizons are relatively young that was also no accident. The project wants to make sure key team members are still on the job when tards could be huge in terms of what it tells us about the origin and evolution of the solar system. The spacecraft gets to Pluto. If all goes well even 2015 won't be an end date for New Horizons. It should have enough fuel to travel onwards to rendezvous with one or two ice dwarfs beyond Pluto.
New Horizons may be a tail of high powered rockets and sophisticated science instruments but it is also evidence of human persistence, passion and boundless imagination. It is going to be an almost timeless object that builds something that will not only outlast the pyramid but outlast the mountain ranges of the earth. This will fly through the galaxy essentially unchanged from the way engineers build it. But it will be just that way for billions of years that is a stunning thing.
New Horizons is just not breakthrough science, it is another milestone in America's Vision of space exploration. Hal Weaver said, " humans are explorers I mean we are not satisfied just to sit with the status quo, we want to understand our place in the universe, why we are here? Is the earth unique? Is life unique? In particular space science, we are going out to studies of planets is a very important component of that process. Virtually every piece we have set a spacecraft on a first reconnaissance for missions like this. We find out that our earth-based nations were flat wrong. So I will tell you what we expect but before anything we expect is to be surprised."
Exploring the outer solar system, because it is so far it takes a lot of time, rather than a few years. It requires a lot of patience, a lot of dedication, a lot of perseverance but it is exciting, it is frontier it is the place that we lea