Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Horizons Pluto Mission News

Pluto Mission News
February 21, 2008

New Horizons Crosses 9 AU

New Horizons passed a planetary milepost today at 5 a.m. EST when it reached a distance of 9 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun – about 836.6 million miles, or nine times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. “The spacecraft destined for the ninth planet is now just beyond 9 AU and continuing outbound for the solar system’s frontier at more than 60,000 kilometers per hour!” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of NASA Headquarters.

New Horizons has covered nearly 970.5 million miles (1.56 billion kilometers) since its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on January 19, 2006. Speeding toward Pluto at about 42,000 miles (67,500 kilometers) per hour, New Horizons will zip past the orbit of Saturn – where the Cassini spacecraft now operates – on June 8. That crossing will make New Horizons the farthest spacecraft on its way to or at its primary target.

New Horizons itself won’t have long to enjoy this latest accomplishment, though, as mission operators will put the spacecraft into regularly scheduled hibernation this afternoon at 3:50 p.m. EST.

New Horizons is the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt beyond. Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of NASA Headquarters, leads a mission team that includes the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute, Ball Aerospace Corporation, the Boeing Company, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Stanford University, KinetX, Inc., Lockheed Martin Corporation, University of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Energy, and a number of other firms, NASA centers and university partners. For more information on the mission, visit

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