Sunday, June 7, 2015

New Horizons...

New Horizons...  The NASA robotic explorer New Horizons is set to do a close flyby of the planet (or whatever they're calling it these days) Pluto.  At it's closest approach, on July 14th, it will be just 7,800 miles from Pluto's surface.

How close is that?  At it's closest approach to Earth, Pluto is almost 46 billion miles away.  Aiming New Horizons to approach within just 7,800 miles is phenomenally good aiming.  It's the equivalent of shooting a gun at a target a mile away, and deliberately missing the bulls-eye by exactly a tenth of an inch.  NASA was able to make some course corrections along the way, but still ... that's mighty fine shooting!

New Horizons was launched in January 2006, over nine years ago.  That's one very long voyage it's on.  It's still in perfect condition, too – a testament to some excellent engineering and fabrication work.  Surviving nine years in the harsh environment of space didn't happen by accident.  The mission of the New Horizons explorer will continue for at least another year, exploring the Kuiper Belt for the first time.  The mission team has identified several Kuiper Belt objects that they'd like to fly by, and if they get their extended mission (through about 2020) funded, they'll be able to do it.  The funding required is far less than the launch of an ISS mission, but nevertheless it's at risk due to the priorities given (pretty much totally useless) manned spaceflight...

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