Pluto-bound NASA Spacecraft Wakes Up
It's been a busy few weeks for space news. First a landing on a comet; then, a successful test flight of Orion, and now a tiny NASA spacecraft zooming toward Pluto was successfully awakened over the weekend.
The New Horizons robot was launched about nine years ago from Cape Canaveral and will reach Pluto in July, 2015. When it left Earth, it was traveling at about 36,000 miles per hour. Then, it flew by Jupiter for a "gravity assist" and is now zipping along at about 47,000 miles per hour. Don't blink, or you'll miss it!
The controllers at John Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland confirmed the wake-up call at about 9:50 p.m. Saturday. The signal took four and half hours to reach the NASA Deep Space Network dish at Canberra, Australia.
The spaceship has spent about five years of its nine-year flight "asleep." There have a number of short activity times, especially as it passed by the gas giant planets in the solar system.
New Horizons will start its observation of Pluto January 15 and will stay active as it passes by in the summer. It has visual and infrared cameras, a telephoto camera and other gear such as a particle spectrometer.
By the way, the debate over whether or not Pluto is a planet is still going on. It was discovered at Arizona's Lowell Observatory by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. It has at least four moons and an atmosphere. It takes 248 years to go around the Sun.
We'll know more about Pluto in the next few months as New Horizons pays it a "sorry, can't stay, just passing through" visit.