NASA's "New Horizons" Pluto probe is Awake and ready for the show time

From distance of 2.9 billion miles, NASA's New Horizons space probe let its controllers know on Saturday that it has woke from sleep and is ready for the climax of its nine-year journey to Pluto.

The first signals were established at the mission's control centre at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland via a gigantic radio antenna in Australia just before 9:30 p.m. ET, almost four and a half hours after it was directed by the piano-sized probe. It takes that long for signals to travel among there and here at the speed of light.

Later readings proved that New Horizons was fully aware.

"This is a watershed event that indicats the end of New Horizons voyage of a vast ocean of space to the very border of our solar system, and the start of the mission's primary goal: the investigation of Pluto and its many moons in 2015," Southwest Research Institute planetary researcher Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the $728 million New Horizons mission, said in a NASA report.

New Horizons has been spending around two-thirds of the time ever since its launch in 2006 in sleep, to save on electronic wear and tear as well as working costs. Every few months, the spacecraft's systems have been awakened to insomnia for a check-up, or for photo-shoot such as its Jupiter flyby in 2007.

The Spacecraft also has been directing weekly blips known as "green beacons" — to let the mission squad know it's not dead, but only hibernating.

The directives for the wakeup call were communicated to the probe during a check-up in August, and the signal directed on Saturday proved that the instructions were accomplished earlier in the day. To rejoice the occasion, the New Horizons team arranged for English tenor Russell Watson to record a special version of the Star Trek anthem "Where My Heart Will Take Me" as a wakeup song.

In future, New Horizons will remain awake endlessly through its Bastille Day flyby of Pluto and its moons next July 14. After a few weeks of groundwork, the probe's gadgets will start making long-range observations on Jan. 15.

The probe is at present about 162 million miles away from Pluto, but as that distance lessens, the observations will get better and better. By next May, New Horizons' pictures of Pluto should be sharper than the best images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. And in July, the spacecraft may grasp sight of the clouds and ice volcanoes that researchers expect may exist on the dwarf planet.

New Horizons will capture images of Pluto and its five known moons, but there may be wonders as well — still more moons, maybe, or icy rings about Pluto. So many readings are probable to pile up that New Horizons will have to store the data in its memory and convey it for more than a year after the meet.

Afterward Pluto, New Horizons' team is scheduling to send the spacecraft past another icy object in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of cosmic material that lies outside Neptune's orbit, in late 2018 or 2019.

"New Horizons is on a expedition to a new class of planets we've not ever seen, in a place we've never been before," NASA mentioned New Horizons' project researcher, Hal Weaver of the Applied Physics Laboratory, as saying. "For years we thought Pluto was this odd little body on the planetary borders; now we know it's really a doorway to an entire region of new worlds in the Kuiper Belt, and New Horizons is going to deliver the first close-up look at them."

The probe's computer finally will be reprogrammed to transmit digital "selfies to the stars," courtesy of the One Earth New Horizons Message project.

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Source Article: NBC NEWS



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