As New Horizons speeds towards its planned fly-by of Pluto on July 14, the biggest problem faced by its engineers is making sure the spacecraft actually finds and photographs the planet.
Because astronomers discovered the dwarf planet in 1930, they have seen only part of its 248-year path around the Sun, and they don’t know exactly where Pluto is. And New Horizons is so far from Earth that it takes 9 hours to send and receive a signal, making the spacecraft hard to direct in real time. “Everything is pushed to the extreme,” says Bobby Williams, an engineer at KinetX Aerospace in Simi Valley, California, who heads the mission’s navigation team.
This fact, which has not been mentioned previously as far as I remember, suggests that there is a good chance that New Horizons might fly through its planned window and aim its cameras at the wrong spot in the sky, missing Pluto entirely. It also explains partly why the images released so far have been so fuzzy: They are focused mostly on doing navigation work, and are taking wide angle shots to make sure they catch Pluto in their picture frame. Zooming in too close might actually miss Pluto as they don’t exactly know where it is.
All this only makes the July 14th fly-by even more exciting. Let us hope they do due diligence and get the pictures we all want!
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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