Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Bill Nye the Science Guy will headline a free Planetary Society event, "The Science and Romance of Pluto," at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, DC on February 1, 2001. The special presentation, co-sponsored by the Carnegie Institution, will also feature Neil de Grasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium; Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute; and Wesley Huntress of the Carnegie Institution and Vice-President of The Planetary Society as moderator.
"The Science and Romance of Pluto" will address the scientific rationale and technical challenges of a Pluto mission, as well as our human need to explore. Scientists support a mission to this last unexplored planet of our solar system because Pluto and the Kuiper Belt hold keys to the solar system's origin.
The Planetary Society has been campaigning for a Pluto mission ever since work on NASA's Pluto Kuiper Express mission was stopped in September, 2000. Since then, the Society has delivered to Congress thousands of pieces of mail from the public in support of launching a Pluto mission in the near future. Thousands more messages of support came from users of the internet, who saw the Society's campaign on the world wide web.
Some scientists believe the thin atmosphere of Pluto will freeze to the surface as the planet moves in its orbit further from the Sun, with the next thaw occurring over 200 years from now, around 2230. The longer the mission is delayed, the more likely it will be that the mission will lose the opportunity to study Pluto's atmosphere.
The outpouring of public support has not been unnoticed. In December, 2000, NASA issued an Announcement of Opportunity for principal investigators and institutions to submit proposals for a new mission to Pluto.
"The scientific interest in the planet is not the only reason Pluto has captured the imaginations of scientists and the public alike," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. "Exploring the far reaches of space touches on the romance of distant outposts, the challenge of the unknown, and our restless quest to journey beyond known boundaries."
"The Science and Romance of Pluto" will feature a panel that includes both leaders and communicators of scientific exploration who are helping to provide scientific and public support for a Pluto mission. They will examine the concept of a Pluto mission from the many perspectives of their varied backgrounds. Huntress, Tyson and Nye are members of the Society's Board of Directors, and Aldrin is a member of its Advisory Council.
The public is invited to attend "The Science and Romance of Pluto" from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, Thursday, February 1 at the Carnegie Institution, Root Hall, 1530 P Street NW, Washington, DC. Doors will open at 6:00 PM.