The New Horizons team tweeted an interesting question the other day: “Would you stay home on 14 July 2015 to watch the encounter coverage if it’s live on TV?”
Less than 40,000 people follow New Horizons on Twitter right now, and most of them would probably follow it streaming on the Net.
Yet I wonder, how many people worldwide even know that mankind is, relatively speaking, almost to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt?
According to Wikipedia, no one was fooling around when they launched New Horizons in 2006.
It went from zero to 36,373 mph/58,536 kph in about 45 minutes – the fastest launch speech ever for a man-made object.
They did it using an Atlas V rocket with 5 solid rocket boosters, providing 2 million pounds of thrust. I imagine they’re a bit gentler for manned flights.
They had a need for speed because Pluto is over 80 times as far from us as we are from the Sun.
Asleep and Awake
Over the vast distance, the craft usually has been hibernating to conserve power, wear and tear, etc. – just sending Mom and Dad a beep once a week (Mondays) to let them know everything is okay, with annual wake-ups to check things out – but this summer “New Horizons” has been chatty on Twitter.
Mom and Dad woke New Horizons up in May to do “thorough checks of all backup systems, instrument payload calibrations, and an update of our fault protection software with the next-to-last planned set of enhancements before we start the Pluto encounter in January 2015 – just over 19 months from now.” (Source) They also did the most comprehensive yet rehearsal of the encounter (at Pluto’s distance, it will take 10 days for instructions from Earth to arrive, so they really need to practice now). New Horizons also managed to get an image that showed Pluto and its moon Charon as separate objects (not an easy task from Earth – in fact, Charon was only discovered in 1978).
In less than 2 weeks, New Horizons will be back in hibernation until next year. It still has a long way to go.