It’s Alive!

PC: Credits: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI) via NASA Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in July 2015. The craft’s miniature cameras, radio science experiment, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and space plasma experiments will characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto’s atmosphere in detail. The spacecraft’s most prominent design feature is a nearly 7-foot (2.1-meter) dish antenna, through which it will communicate with Earth from as far as 4.7 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) away.

Signals from the New Horizons spacecraft has reached Earth confirming that it has survived its date with Pluto. The radio signals, sent out at the speed of light, were received in four and a half hours. This means New Horizons has captured lots of data during its flyby and will start sending it home now.

The flyby actually took place at 7:49 a.m. ET Tuesday, with New Horizons coming within 7,750 miles of Pluto’s surface. But the spacecraft was programmed to make observations during its approach and couldn’t turn its antenna to call back home until many hours later.

The first images and data taken during the flyby are expected to reach us Wednesday, and it’ll continue coming for the next sixteen months.

To quote Alice Bowman, the mission operations manager, “We have a healthy spacecraft, we have recorded data of the Pluto system, and we’re outbound from Pluto.”

S.G. Basu is an aspiring potentate of a galaxy or two. She plots and plans with wondrous machines, cybernetic robots, time travelers and telekinetic adventurers, some of whom escape into the pages of her books. Once upon a previous life on planet Earth, S.G. Basu trained to be an engineer, and her interest in science and her love of engineering shows up time and again in her books.

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