NASA engineers give the New Horizons spacecraft a final "all clear" on its Pluto fly by mission.
NASA has announced that the New Horizons spacecraft got a final "all clear" as it speeds towards Pluto in its historic fly by mission on July 14. NASA has made the final adjustments of the New Horizons course earlier this week.
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After seven weeks of detailed searches for dust clouds, rings, and other potential hazards, the New Horizons team has decided the spacecraft will remain on its original path through the Pluto system instead of making a late course correction to detour around any hazards. Because New Horizons is traveling at 30,800 mph (49,600 kph), a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal.
These images show the difference between two sets of 48 combined 10-second exposures with New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera, taken at 8:40 UTC and 10:25 UTC on June 26, 2015, from a range of 21.5 million kilometers (approximately 13 million miles) to Pluto. The known small moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx, are visible as adjacent bright and dark pairs of dots, due to their motion in the 105 minutes between the two image sets. Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI
“We’re breathing a collective sigh of relief knowing that the way appears to be clear,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA. “The science payoff will be richer as we gather data from the optimal flight path, as opposed to having to conduct observations from one of the back-up trajectories.”
Others are less excited about not finding any unknown obstacles near Pluto.
“The suspense – at least most of it – is behind us,” says John Spencer, of SwRI, who leads the New Horizons hazard analysis team. “As a scientist I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t spot additional moons to study, but as a New Horizons team member I am much more relieved that we didn’t find something that could harm the spacecraft. New Horizons already has six amazing objects to analyze in this incredible system.”
NASA scientists would have liked to find new Pluto moons.
“Not finding new moons or rings present is a bit of a scientific surprise to most of us,” said principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “But as a result, no engine burn is needed to steer clear of potential hazards. We presented these data to NASA for review and received approval to proceed on course and plan. We are ‘go’ for the best of our planned Pluto encounter trajectories.”
New Horizons is now about 10 million miles (16 million kilometers) from the Pluto system – some 2.95 billion miles (4.75 billion kilometers) from Earth. New Horizons Closest Approach to Pluto: 7:49:57 a.m. EDT, July 14, 2015. Below is a video of the latest images sent from New Horizons.
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Via the NASA New Horizons site.