December 19, 2005

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
(202) 358-1726

Michael Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md
(240) 228-7536

RELEASE: 05-550


NASA is preparing to launch the first spacecraft to distant Pluto and
its moon Charon. The January 2006 launch of New Horizons will
complete the initial reconnaissance of the planets in the solar

“New Horizons will study a unique world, and we can only imagine what
we may learn. This is a prime example of scientific missions that
complement the Vision for Space Exploration,” said Mary Cleave,
associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

The Vision for Space Exploration is a bold new course into the cosmos,
a journey that will return the space shuttle safely to flight,
complete the construction of the International Space Station, take
humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars and beyond.

The National Academy of Sciences has ranked the exploration of
Pluto-Charon and the Kuiper Belt among the highest priorities for
space exploration, citing the fundamental scientific importance of
these bodies to advancing understanding of our solar system.

Different than the inner, rocky planets (like Earth) or the outer gas
giants, Pluto is a different type of planet known as an “ice dwarf,”
commonly found in the Kuiper Belt region billions of miles from the

“Exploring Pluto and the Kuiper Belt is like conducting an
archeological dig into the history of the outer solar system, a place
where we can peek into the ancient era of planetary formation,” said
Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, Southwest Research
Institute Department of Space Studies, Boulder, Colo.

Designed and built at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics
Laboratory, Laurel, Md., pending launch approval, New Horizons is set
to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., no earlier
than Jan. 17, 2006. The launch window extends until Feb. 14, 2006.

The compact, 1,050-pound piano-sized probe will launch aboard an Atlas
V expendable launch vehicle, followed by a boost from a kick-stage
solid propellant motor. New Horizons will be the fastest spacecraft
ever launched, reaching lunar orbit distance in just nine hours and
passing Jupiter 13 months later.

Launch before Feb. 3 allows New Horizons to fly past Jupiter in early
2007 and use the planet’s gravity as a slingshot toward Pluto. The
Jupiter flyby trims the trip to Pluto by five years and provides
opportunities to test the spacecraft’s instruments and flyby
capabilities on the Jupiter system.

The New Horizons science payload, developed under direction of
Southwest Research Institute, includes imaging infrared and
ultraviolet spectrometers, a multi-color camera, a long-range
telescopic camera, two particle spectrometers, a space-dust detector
and a radio science experiment. The dust counter was designed and
built by students at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Depending on its launch date, New Horizons could reach the Pluto
system as early as mid-2015, conducting a five-month-long study
possible only from the close-up vantage of a spacecraft. It will
characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and
Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine
Pluto’s atmospheric composition and structure. New Horizons also will
study the small moons recently discovered in the Pluto system.

The spacecraft will “sleep” in electronic hibernation for much of the
cruise to Pluto. Operators will turn off all but the most critical
electronic systems and monitor the spacecraft once a year to check
out critical systems, calibrate instruments and perform course
corrections, if necessary.

The spacecraft will send back a beacon signal each week to give
operators an instant read on spacecraft health. The entire
spacecraft, drawing electricity from a single radioisotope
thermoelectric generator, operates on less power than a pair of
100-watt household light bulbs.

For more information about NASA and the New Horizons mission on the
Web, visit:


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Domanda: ma voi avete partecipato a quel giochetto (non so nemmeno io come definirlo esattamente) di inserire il vostro nome e cognome per la missione New Horizon?
Io l’ho fatto… teoricamente ora il mio e un altro paio di centinaia di migliaia di nomi inclusi in un cd stanno per partire alla volta di Plutone.

Quando ho saputo di questa possibilità le “iscrizioni” erano già chiuse… :cry:

Diciamo pure che un po’ ti invidio… :wink:

Con questa missione non ci sono riuscito ma il mio nome e quello di mia moglie si dovrebbe trovare nel CD sulla sonda Cassini…