NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has spent the last nine years in space on its way there.
“Mission Pluto” will air on National Geographic Channel at 9 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. CDT on July 14.
“The spacecraft and all the instruments are operating flawlessly”, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute said Monday. “Now we’re eager to get back to the science and prepare for the payoff that’s yet to come”.
But this is about to change as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to fly by the dwarf planet on its way to the Kuiper Belt on July 14, as per CBS News.
This map of Pluto, created from images (with a resolution of 67 to 100 kilometers per pixel) taken from June 27-July 3, 2015, by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons, was combined with lower-resolution color data from the spacecraft’s Ralph instrument.
“We’re on to Pluto!” These images unwrap the visible elements of the sphere on a flat projection providing another view of the features that started emerging in recent days.
In less than a week, New Horizons will run into Pluto at the speed of 30,000 (48,000km) miles per hour passing within the 7,800 miles (12,500km) of the planet’s surface.
In the meantime, NASA also released some of the first images New Horizon captured of the planet. While that is disappointing, the most anticipated part of the mission will occur next week when the spacecraft will zoom within 7,700 miles of Pluto.
This map gives mission scientists an important tool to decipher the complex and intriguing pattern of bright and dark markings on Pluto’s surface. They were in contact with the computer after about an hour but scientists lost more than 2 days of space observations while the probe was being repaired.
If a glitch happens, the spacecraft will be able to put itself into “safe mode” in just seven minutes, preserving the crucial science data already collected. If the computer fails to make a high-priority observational task due to a technical problem, it will try again.
It is hoped data from New Horizons will reveal the role these icy moons had in the formation of the early solar system. Instead, it should gather the maximum amount of information as it can while sweeping past not only Pluto, but also the moons Kerberos Hydra, Charon, and Nix.