Artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft encountering Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.
For the first time in history, Pluto will be seen up close as NASA's New Horizons mission makes a historic flyby of the dwarf planet. It has taken ten years for the New Horizons spacecraft to reach Pluto, and several years of advocacy beforehand to make the mission a reality. The Planetary Society's support for a mission to Pluto began 25 years ago and today stands as a shining example of the possibilities when the world's citizens are empowered to advocate for space exploration.
Planetary Radio LIVE
Join us as The Planetary Society’s Mat Kaplan talks with New Horizons scientists and Pluto-watchers as we monitor the Applied Physics Lab’s live webcast, broadcast from Maryland. Visit the event page for details including a list of our special guests! Watch the webast here if you can't join us in person.
Three months ago, I posted an article explaining what to expect during the flyby. This is a revised version of the same post, with some errors corrected, the expected sizes of Nix and Hydra updated, and times of press briefings added.
The team reported two weeks ago that the first attempts at observing 2014 MU69 were unsuccessful. But in their third try, on July 17, astronomers in Argentina saw the telltale sign of MU69's presence: a stellar wink.
What's ahead for our intrepid space explorers in 2017? It'll be the end of Cassini, but not before the mission performs great science close to the rings. OSIRIS-REx will fly by Earth, and Chang'e 5 will launch to the Moon, as a host of other spacecraft continue their ongoing missions.
Cassini is going to make a major change to its orbit, getting much close to Saturn, setting up 20 "F-ring" orbits. ExoMars will get two science orbits before beginning aerobraking. Long March 5 will have its first launch, while many Earth-observing missions, including Himawari-9 and GOES-R, will go up. But Juno science is on hold.
New Horizons—what will be NASA’s greatest success of 2015—was cancelled multiple times in its early life, and many times before that in its previous incarnations. A mission to Pluto was not inevitable, despite the overwhelming scientific and public excitement.