Awesomely Outward Bound
And she's off! It took a few tries, but NASA's New Horizons vehicle is under way on its long trip to Pluto and the Kuiper belt.
Despite the speed of this particular rocket, we have a long wait ahead before she even gets to, much less completes, her mission.
[Link] The mission aims to send an unmanned, compact car-sized spacecraft packed with scientific instruments to survey Pluto, the never-before-explored outermost of the nine official planets of the Earth's solar system.
"This mission is going somewhere no mission has gone before. This is the frontier of planetary science," said mission scientist Hal Weaver.
That's cool with me. This is money that should turn out to be seriously well-spent for the knowledge of our little spiral of the universe it is expected to return.
[Link]The New Horizons spacecraft blasted off aboard an Atlas V rocket Thursday afternoon in a spectacular start to the $700 million mission. Despite the speed Â it can reach 36,000 mph Â it will take 9 1/2 years to reach Pluto and the frozen, sunless reaches of the solar system.
[Link]"We're realizing just how much there is to the deep, outer solar system," said Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator. "I think it's exciting that textbooks have to be rewritten, over and over."
Salut NASA! If this mission goes half as well as has that of the twin Martian Rovers, the enormity of its return on investment can not even begin to be calculated. Who knows what we'll find out that far into the undiscovered fringes of our solar system?
I sure hope we're still here to marvel at whatever amazing wonders of nature and fantastical seeming facts of life this mission illuminates for us. After all, our continued existence is not guarenteed.