New Horizons becomes closest spacecraft to approach Pluto

Dec 05, 2011 By Dr. Tony Phillips

NASA’s New Horizons mission reached a special milestone yesterday, Dec. 2, 2011, on its way to reconnoiter the Pluto system, coming closer to Pluto than any other spacecraft.

It’s taken New Horizons 2,143 days of high-speed flight – covering more than a million kilometers per day for nearly six years—to break the closest-approach mark of 1.58 billion kilometers set by NASA’s Voyager 1 in January 1986.

“What a cool milestone!” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. “Although we’re still a long way — 1.5 billion kilometers from — we’re now in new territory as the closest any has ever gotten to Pluto, and getting closer every day by over a million kilometers.

New Horizons’ current view of Pluto still resembles this image snapped by the spacecraft’s long-range telescopic camera in 2007; that will change exponentially beginning in late 2014, as New Horizons speeds closer to its target planet and its cameras begin to resolve details.

Now New Horizons, which is healthy, on course and closer to Pluto than Voyager ever came, will continue to set proximity-to-Pluto records every day until its closest approach – about 7,767 miles (12,500 kilometers) from the planet – on July 14, 2015.

“We’ve come a long way across the solar system,” says Glen Fountain, New Horizons project manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “When we launched [on Jan. 19, 2006] it seemed like our 10-year journey would take forever, but those years have been passing us quickly. We’re almost six years in flight, and it’s just about three years until our encounter begins.”

From New Horizons’ current distance to Pluto – about as far as Earth is from Saturn – Pluto remains just a faint point of light. But by the time New Horizons sails through the Pluto system in mid-2015, the planet and its moons will be so close that the spacecraft’s cameras will spot features as small as a football field.

“I wonder how long it will be until the next Pluto spacecraft — perhaps a future orbiter or lander — crosses this distance marker?” Stern continues. “It could be decades.”

is currently in hibernation, with all but its most essential systems turned off, speeding away from the Sun at more than 55,500 kilometers per hour. Operators at the Applied Physics Lab will “wake” the spacecraft in January for a month of testing and maintenance activities.

Explore further: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

More information: Check the New Horizons homepage for more information and updates en route to Pluto:

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User comments : 9

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1.3 / 5 (15) Dec 05, 2011
this migth be cool news for dummies

not so for those who know about the secret space program
witch has nothing to do with rockets or probes

and evrything to do with antigravity fleets moon and mars bases

the secret space fleet craft have superluminal capacity
they can visit any planet or star in the galaxy
and make it back for lunch with telemetry ans soil sampels

believe it or not

1.3 / 5 (12) Dec 05, 2011
I liked the concept of a pluto probe, but hated the execution of this mission since I first heard about it.

Flying all the way out there, and so close, just to do a one-time flyby of a single planet/dwarf planet, whatever they call it now.

What a waste of equipment.

How hard could it have been to add a detachable orbiter or lander module?

I don't know, it's a damn shame.

Features as large as a football field? That ought to be useful for next to nothing.

"Yep, there's a bit of a hill. Oh there's a valley..."

Wow, typical, scientifically useless stuff you already know exists on any icy or rocky planetoid anyway...
1 / 5 (11) Dec 05, 2011
u might no believe me how about?

Former National Aeronautics and Space Administration Data and Photo Control Department manager, Ken Johnston, who worked for the space agency's Lunar Receiving Laboratory during the Apollo missions??

check what he has to say :
1.4 / 5 (13) Dec 05, 2011
here is the specific link with data regarding one of the our secret moon bases with nasa photos

4.6 / 5 (11) Dec 05, 2011
u might no believe me how about?

I almost had a stroke trying to parse this sentence. I probably should have my coffee in the mornings before reading the rantings of the mentally disturbed.
3 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2011
"But by the time New Horizons sails through the Pluto system in mid-2015, the planet and its moons will be so close that the spacecrafts cameras will spot features as small as a football field."

I thought Pluto wasn't classed as a planet anymore :/
2.1 / 5 (7) Dec 05, 2011
It may not be one of the major planets, but it's still a dwarf planet. It's still fascinating and worthy of study and exploration.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2011
I liked the concept of a pluto probe, but hated the execution of this mission since I first heard about it.

How hard could it have been to add a detachable orbiter or lander module?

Features as large as a football field? That ought to be useful for next to nothing.

1. There is a huge amount of info you can gain in football field resolution compared to the 4 pixel images we can get now...spectrographically, feature wise, atmoshpher, geology, etc. etc.

2. I kinda agree with you regarding the orbiter or lander, but that would add substantially to weight/cost/complexity. The craft is traveling very fast, and it would take a lot of work to get a part or all of it to slow down safely to orbital or landing speed.

The radiothermal generator has a half life, so they want to get it there as quickly as possible to get the most power for their instruments - in addition to any other objects they may want to visit.
CQ Subatomic
not rated yet Dec 07, 2011
The amount of crazy in the comments here never fails to amuse.

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