History was made on the evening of July 14, when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft phoned home after its close encounter with Pluto. After 22 hours without contact, the spacecraft was to send a message back to Earth that she had survived. That signal arrived right on schedule. The spacecraft was healthy and packed with data.
This was met with huge applause from a standing room-only crowd at the Spark Museum, where I co-organized the event Pluto Revealed. The museum had graciously opened its doors to the community. We featured local scientific talent from Western Washington University as well as a live-taping of the KMRE show Spark Science.
NASA knocked this mission out of the park. It was on-time, on-budget and performed flawlessly. It cost about $2 per American. Our nation’s commitment to curiosity, engineering, and science was on fine display. The New Horizons mission is humanity at its best.
The organization I work for, The Planetary Society, spent the last 25 years lobbying for this mission. It was canceled and revived numerous times. These sorts of missions don’t just happen. They depend on active, ongoing support from the public.
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But the payoff is immense, as we saw on Tuesday. Not just for the science or the stunning pictures of Pluto, but also for bringing communities together and inspiring people. I have the strong suspicion that future scientists were made that night.