NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Completes Flyby of Pluto

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from The New York Times,

It was like New Year’s Eve as the countdown clock ticked down to zero.

“We’re going to do our 10-9-8 thing, and you can get your flags out,” S. Alan Stern, the principal investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, told the people gathered here at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is operating the mission. “We’re going to go absolutely ape.”

About 7:50 a.m. Tuesday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its closest pass by Pluto, coming within 7,800 miles of the surface.

The crowd, which included the children of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930, cheered.

As soon as it arrived, New Horizons was leaving, speeding along its trajectory at 31,000 miles per hour.

For now, no one knows how the spacecraft is faring.

New Horizons, which sent its last message to Earth at 11:17 p.m. on Monday, is in the middle of 22 hours of automated scientific observations.

“We always talk about the spacecraft as being a child, maybe a teenager,” Alice Bowman, the mission operations manager, said during a news conference after the flyby. “There was absolutely nothing anybody on the operations team could do, just to trust that we had prepared it well to set off on its journey on its own.”

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