THIS DAY IN HISTORY: NASA’s New Horizons Becomes First Spacecraft To Explore Pluto
By NASA // July 14, 2016
July 14, 2015
(NASA) – One year ago today, the New Horizons space probe passed 7,800 miles (12,500 km) above the surface of Pluto, becoming the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf planet and its moons.
New Horizons launched from Cape Canaveral on January 19, 2006. On its way to Pluto, New Horizons flew by the asteroid 132524 APL and Jupiter.
The probe used Jupiter’s gravity to increase its speed, shortening its voyage by three years, and during the flyby its instruments were tested in observing Jupiter’s atmosphere, moons, and magnetosphere.
In addition to its cameras, New Horizons contains a number of instruments used to study the surface chemistry and atmosphere of Pluto.
New Horizons also carries a CD with about 435,000 names of people who signed up to have their names sent to Pluto.
The first data from the flyby reached Earth on July 15, 2015, and although the Pluto encounter officially ended in January 2016, the probe is still transmitting data about the Pluto encounter back to Earth (and will be for several more months).
New Horizons mission was recently extended. It is currently on its way to 2014 MU69, a Kuiper belt object over four billion miles from the Sun.