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Press Room

From Earth to Pluto: A Digital Time Capsule for the World of Tomorrow


Mat Kaplan
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

It's a long journey to Pluto -- nine years will pass from the time New Horizons launches in January 2006 until the spacecraft arrives in 2015. Meanwhile, the Earth the spacecraft leaves behind will not be the same as the Earth that witnesses the images and data New Horizons sends back from the last unexplored planet in our solar system. What will Earth be like in nine years' time? How will that world of tomorrow have changed compared to our world today?

The Planetary Society, in conjunction with the New Horizons mission, invites children and adults around the world to send a message to future Earth -- a New Horizons Digital Time Capsule from those who launched the mission to the inhabitants of Earth who receive its results nearly a decade later.

The New Horizons Digital Time Capsule will consist of photographs of things in 2006 that people expect will be transformed by 2015. How will life on our planet have changed in those intervening years? More than a billion people will be born, and a billion die; new technologies could revolutionize daily life; the rapid pace of change will have transformed not only our own lives but also cities and entire countries. Earth will have discovered other new horizons while the New Horizons mission cruised through interplanetary space.

"Like a message in a bottle, cast on the currents of time rather than water, we will have a snapshot of Earth 2006 to remember the world that launched the mission," said Bruce Betts, The Planetary Society's Director of Projects.

The New Horizons Digital Time Capsule will be placed on a DVD and kept securely at Planetary Society Headquarters in Pasadena, California with a backup copy stored with the New Horizons project. As the spacecraft approaches its rendezvous with Pluto, it will send back a "family portrait" of the Pluto system. The return of this image from the spacecraft will be used as the signal for the time capsule to be opened and shown to Earth 2015. As we see a close up family portrait of Pluto and its moons, we will also look back on the images of Earth as it was when the spacecraft started its journey.

Anyone may enter, but only one entry per person or per group is permitted. An entry consists of a photo, accompanied by a caption, of something that is likely to change between now and 2015. The photo can be of anything, including (but not limited to) landscapes, buildings, technological devices, vehicles, living things, etc. The Planetary Society especially encourages photos that reflect anticipated positive change in the future. The deadline for entries is July 15, 2006. Complete rules can be found at

An international panel of judges selected by The Planetary Society will review the submissions. The panel will select a representative set of photos for the New Horizons Digital Time Capsule based upon the perceived likelihood that the subject of the photo will change over the next nine years; the aesthetic quality of the photograph; and the uniqueness of the subject.

The time capsule will be closed in March 2007 after New Horizons crosses Jupiter's orbit. It will not be reopened until the spacecraft arrives at Pluto. The spacecraft will arrive at Pluto in 2015 if it launches early in its launch period. However, significant launch delays would cause changes in the orbital trajectory, delaying the spacecraft's arrival to as late as 2020. The time capsule will be opened when the Pluto family portrait is returned shortly before Pluto encounter, however long the journey takes.

New Horizons, the first of NASA's New Frontiers missions, will not only complete our "tour" of the planets, but will also increase our understanding of the composition of the solar system and its origins. The outer reaches of the solar system are very different from the better known regions occupied by the four terrestrial planets and the four gas giants. Billions of miles from the Sun, Pluto orbits among the vast field of rocky and icy debris known as the Kuiper belt. After a flyby of Pluto, its moon Charon, and Pluto’s newly discovered moons, New Horizons will continue its flight and visit at least one other Kuiper belt object.


About The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. With the mission to empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a longtime member of The Planetary Society's Board, serves as CEO.