Launched in January, 2006, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft finally reached its principal mission goal – Pluto – nine years later in 2015. After traveling billions of miles through black space, New Horizons flew around the colorful dwarf planet for three months and another 1.4 million miles. In the process, as it soared 7,800 miles above the body’s surface, the spacecraft – the first to visit Pluto – was close enough to send back some extraordinary images to Earth.
Ever since Soviet Russia launched its satellite Sputnik 1 into orbit around the Earth in 1957, scientists and dreamers have looked forward to a future where we can explore other planets. The vast distances, of course, present a huge barrier. For example, Pluto is anywhere between 4.67 and 2.66 billion miles from Earth, depending on the point in the orbital cycle.
The New Horizons mission is the initial part of NASA’s New Frontiers project which has so far cost some $700 million. New Frontiers currently has two other projects on the go. New Frontiers 2 is dubbed Juno and it involves a solar-powered spacecraft traveling to Jupiter. Juno’s purpose is to investigate the internal make-up and magnetic fields of the largest planet in the Solar System.