Spiral Notebook
New Horizons Mission Extended
by Harriet Low
July 14, 2016
New Horizons Mission Extended

As Scientists in the Field author Mary Kay Carson detailed in Pluto Flyby!, it was a year ago today—July 14, 2015—that the robotic spacecraft New Horizons became the first ever to visit Pluto, flying by the dwarf planet to collect data and send the information back to Earth after a nine and a half year journey.

A year later, it’s not only Mary Kay and NASA who are impressed by New Horizons and the scientist behind it, Alan Stern—Stern is one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of the Year, and Ed Stone explains why here. As Stone writes, Stern “has taken us to a realm of the solar system we would not now be seeing up close without his commitment and persistence.” And he’s poised to take us even further.

In The PI’s Perspective: Exploration Ahead!, Stern outlines how NASA has approved an extended mission for New Horizons, which will include study of the Kuiper Belt through 2021. Stern explains just what this means for his project: “With the extended mission we’ll not just set distance records for exploring farther worlds than any spacecraft ever has – or even plans to – but we’ll likely be the only NASA mission to reach a new, unexplored outer solar system object in the next decade.”

Considering New Horizons is still working on downloading the 50-plus gigabits of data it’s already collected to NASA facilities here on the ground, this extension to the mission promises more exciting and surprising discoveries about the most remote areas of space our spacecraft have ever visited. You can check out 5 Amazing Things We’ve Learned a Year After Visiting Pluto on National Goegraphic here, for a taste of the amazing discoveries New Horizons has made.

Be sure to follow the progress of New Horizons, and check out Mary Kay Carson and Tom Uhlman’s book, Mission to Pluto, for more information on Alan Stern’s amazing project—it’s out in January 2017!

© JHUAPL/SwRI (spacecraft); © NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI (Pluto)
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