I’m Aboard the New Horizons Mission’s Final Approach to PLUTO Happening NOW!!!!!

~By InsightAnalytical

UPDATE: To keep up to date with New Horizons Mission’s approach, these are the sites with all the info!  Both sites have countdown clocks to the time of the closest approach which will be at 7:49:59 a.m. EDT (11:49:59 UTC) on July 14, 2015.  The Johns Hopkins countdown also includes the elapsed time of the mission as well as a countdown to when the start of the close encounter operations begin,  12 April 2015, 00:00:00 UTC.

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/New Horizons website  — scroll down to sign up for their email newsletter for the latest updates, including tracking the craft’s location in the solar system.

NASA New Horizons Mission website  — latest news, Tweets, pictures and other information!


I’ve always been fascinated by space.  I cherish books which I’ve had since childhood.  Published around 1957, these well-worn treasures are always in view in my office bookcase. So, winding up living in Southern New Mexico near the White Sands Missile Range has been a happy coincidence since it’s a hotbed of all things astronomy and space!   Post-World War II, Werner Von Braun was brought here to test rockets for the U.S. Army and captured V-2 rockets carried hundreds of  payloads.


Childood Space Books

Childhood Space Books

What Space Exploration Would be like in the 1970's--Werner Von Braun from Chapter in "Outer Space"

Werner Von Braun’s vision of space exploration in the 1970’s–from chapter in “Outer Space”

NASA’s  White Sands Space Harbor (WSSH), was the primary training area for space shuttle pilots flying practice approaches and landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft and served as a backup landing site (Shuttle Columbia landed here on March 30, 1982). And I was able to witness the final flyover of the space shuttle Endeavour on its way it’s final home in California on September 20, 2012.  NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which has supported many missions, is a few miles from my home.   I watched as Endeavour circled over White Sands and the NASA facilities on Route 70 in a final goodbye, swung back over the assisted-living facility where my mother was at the time and then flew right over me as I stood on the dam and then turned toward the west.   I had tears in my eyes as I simply loved the space shuttle era! And this haunting video of the flyover brings tears to my eyes now!   I met Alan Hale, of Hale-Bopp Comet fame at the local co-op one day and had lunch with him on his next visit to Las Cruces from his home in Cloudcroft.  Who could have imagined that when I viewed the comet back in 1997 in New Jersey I would someday chatting with one of the discoverers! I also built a 4.5″ Dobsonian reflector telescope telescope one summer at a class sponsored by the Astronomical Society…and later had my scope signed by John Dobson himself when he visited the club!  And, the Spaceport which is waiting for Richard Branson’s commercial edge of space flights to become operable, is just a short distance away.

But even more important now is the fact that Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto,  lived and passed away here…and some of his ashes are aboard the New Horizons spacecraft! See Clyde Tombaugh: Astronomer Who Discovered Pluto, from Space.com.

Tombaugh was a founder of the local Unitarian Church and he is memorialized in a stunning stained glass window in the Tombaugh Gallery,  which houses a variety art exhibitions.



It was quite by accident (or was it synchronicity?) that I’ve reconnected with this Pluto mission. I’ve been clearing out a lot of old stuff lately…clothes, files, and all sorts of stray papers. Recently, I rediscovered a lost printout that I promptly restored to a prominent place in my office.

This single piece of paper reads:


Shedding Light on Frontier Worlds

Participation Certificate

Presented to

***********My Name************

On August 30, 2005

Thank you for joining the first mission to the last planet! A compact

disc bearing your name will be included on the New Horizons spacecraft,

set for the first voyage to a new class of planets on the solar system’s

farthest frontier.

Come with us as we complete the reconnaissance of the solar system and unlock

the secrets of Pluto, its moon, Charon, and the Kuiper Belt.

Certificate No. 277229

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  On December 6, 2014, NASA posted this update on the mission entitled “On Pluto’s Doorstep, NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Awakens for Encounter.”  (http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons/on-plutos-doorstep-new-horizons-spacecraft-awakens-for-encounter/#.VLWz3HuW6oN)

After a voyage of nearly nine years and three billion miles —the farthest any space mission has ever traveled to reach its primary target – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft came out of hibernation today for its long-awaited 2015 encounter with the Pluto system.

Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., confirmed at 9:53 p.m. (EST) that New Horizons, operating on pre-programmed computer commands, had switched from hibernation to “active” mode. Moving at light speed, the radio signal from New Horizons – currently more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth, and just over 162 million miles from Pluto – needed four hours and 26 minutes to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia.

“This is a watershed event that signals the end of New Horizons crossing of a vast ocean of space to the very frontier of our solar system, and the beginning of the mission’s primary objective: the exploration of Pluto and its many moons in 2015,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.

With a seven-instrument science payload that includes advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a compact multicolored camera, a high-resolution telescopic camera, two powerful particle spectrometers and a space-dust detector, New Horizons will begin observing the Pluto system on Jan. 15.

New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto will occur on July 14, but plenty of highlights are expected before then, including, by mid-May, views of the Pluto system better than what the mighty Hubble Space Telescope can provide of the dwarf planet and its moons.

“New Horizons is on a journey to a new class of planets we’ve never seen, in a place we’ve never been before,” says New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of APL. “For decades we thought Pluto was this odd little body on the planetary outskirts; now we know it’s really a gateway to an entire region of new worlds in the Kuiper Belt, and New Horizons is going to provide the first close-up look at them.”

January 15th!  With very little fanfare, New Horizons is going places where no spacecraft has gone before! It is happening right now!

In a January 5th article in Time Magazine entitled “ Hello Pluto! NASA’s Visit to the Mystery World Begins,” Alan Stern who has led the project writes:

It’s not exactly top secret, but it is too little known: this month, a small, robot spacecraft—built, launched and guided by a team of over 2,500 Americans—will begin the exploration of far-away Pluto and its five known moons. Lasting from January through July, this epic journey is very much the Everest of planetary exploration.

New Horizons already set records when it was launched in 2006 by becoming the fastest spacecraft to leave the Earth—reaching the orbit of the moon in just nine hours, about 10 times more quickly than the Apollo spacecraft did. Now, after traveling for nine straight years at an average speed of 39,000 m.p.h. (59,000 km/h)—equivalent to L.A. to New York in four minutes—it is at last approaching its historic rendezvous. No spacecraft has ever ventured farther—3 billion miles (4.8 billion km)—to reach its primary target.

At its closest approach, New Horizons will pass Pluto at a distance of just 6,000 miles (9,700 km). It will send back images at resolutions so high that if it were flying over New York City at the same altitude, it could count wharves on the Hudson River and ponds in Central Park. It will also take measurements of Pluto’s composition and atmosphere, study its moons, and more.

In 2003, the National Academy of Sciences ranked visiting the Pluto system at the very top of NASA’s exploration priorities. Why? Because in the 1990s, planetary astronomers discovered a vast structure in our solar system, a previously unknown disk of comets and small planets out beyond Neptune, called the Kuiper Belt. Pluto was the first of many small planets discovered out there, and it is still both the brightest and the largest one known.

The Kuiper Belt is the largest mapped structure in our planetary system, three times as big as all the territory from the sun out to Neptune’s orbit. The comets and small planets that make it up are valuable because they represent the astronomical equivalent of an archeological dig, reaching back to the era of planet formation, 4.6 billion years ago.

Nothing like the exploration that New Horizons is about to undertake has happened in a generation, and nothing like it is planned or even contemplated to happen again. It is likely the last time in our lifetimes that a new planet will be explored. This is more than scientifically important—though it certainly is that. It’s also a reminder of what American technology, culture and daring, on its game, can do.

So… my name and certificate number on a disc that is on a small craft…and the most amazing space mission to date!

To the edge of our solar system…and beyond!

McCain Visit Gets Perfunctory Coverage vs. Obama, Richardson Swooping in to Grab Headlines, Udall Who? (Update 2X)

Well, what a difference a candidate makes….

Back in May, the news of Obama’s visit on Memorial Day was greeted with several days of banner headlines across the top of the local paper, The Las Cruces Sun-News.  It even gave front page status to the visit to ABQ by Obama this past Monday which focused on immigration reform.

Over the last couple of days, we’ve seen small articles about McCain’s visit at the bottom right of the front page…no banner headlines, for sure.  In an area full of active and retired military personnel, the low-key coverage has been surprising.

Now, I’m not a McCain fan, but fair is fair. Unless, the Sun-News is doing what so much of the media is doing…setting up Obama for a fall. The Sun-News seems to be a fan of Republicans in most of their news coverage, although they will occasionally endorse Democrats in local races.

The coverage of the event seems limited so far on the web. An early story (7:36 am) via the El Paso Times which described McCain’s arrival in El Paso also reported that as soon as McCain touched down there, NM Democratic Party leaders revealed that they had organized an 11 AM protest across from the venue. There’s a 3:19  piece by the local reporter.  Then there is a video of the townhall…sort of.  McCain was introduced as being “ready from day one” to be President, and, in his opening remarks, he hit Obama for not “being with him today” to debate issues as well as acknowledging the Olympic win in wrestling by Henry Cejudo, who grew up in Las Cruces. Here’s the web story:

McCain speaks to hundreds at NMSU (3:19 p.m.)

Watching the opening moments of the event, I can tell you that McCain was quite energetic, speaking quickly and directly and moving easily around the stage, with about 5 rows of risers on all sides of him.

In his opening remarks he spent a great deal of time on the situation in Georgia and as he was going into the background of the conflict, guess what?  The video ENDED.  How come? After all, Obama’s entire event was shown!

Oh, but the Sun-News did provide an “interview” held after the event on the fly, which was audio only, and bad audio at that. Barely audible in spots.  The topic was about Georgia and the Russian’s “being back” and that, too, ended abruptly. At least 30 seconds of the 3 minute clip was just noise.

What a contrast to the coverage and video devoted to Obama!

There was also an AP story up at the Sun-News site, but that seemed to disappear early this evening.

Just for the fun of it, I checked out the El Paso Times coverage of the event on the web. It picked up a longer version of the AP story:

While in Las Cruces, John McCain criticizes Obama on Iraq

The story included this one question from a voter, a question about McCain’s potential VP:

One voter asked, “Are you going to pick a vice president that conservatives can rally around in the future, or are you going to give us someone that is going to make us want to stay home?”

McCain responded, “I will nominate a person to be vice president, my running mate, who shares my principles, my values and my priorities.”

And where was El Paso Times Online Editor Jay Koester, who breathlessly blogged from the Obama event and gave himself away as an Obama groupie?  No where to be found when it came to the McCain event!  It was a morning event, so he had all day to write something…but so far, nothing.

We’ll have to see how much ink the event gets in tomorrow’s print edition of the Sun-News. But Bill Richardson is coming to town tomorrow to announce the site of the new state veterans’ museum (and the speculation is it will be here in LC), a convenient way to grab the headlines away from McCain…We’ll see!

UPDATE 1 Thursday AM, August 21, 2008

Well, the print version of today’s Sun-News gave McCain a two column header–“Straight Talk” and the Richardson appearance was at the top right. Obama’s “pre-visit” hype was a 2 days of full banners across the top!!  The story was a combination of local and AP reporting.

Under the headline there was a pic of McCain at the town, with smaller headline underneath reading “McCain rolls into Las Cruces,” with a smaller pick of a student asking a question.  The story continued on page 8A and included one question from the audience from a woman who took her husband to Spain for treatment of a brain disease. She asked: “Why did I have to take him somewhere else so he could die in a better place tha in his own country?”  McCain answered that he thought the health care system needed to be “revamped” but that a government-run system wold do better.”  A small picture of the protesters (NMSU Aggies “heart” Obama”) along with a man holding a McCain tee-shirt accompanied the story.  A side-story, “McCain Praises U.S.-Mexico Cooperation on Combating Drug Trade” was on the left of the page.

At the Sun-News website, video of the entire even went up to accompany the print edition story along with a small photo gallery of about 18 pictures.

Over at the El Paso Times website, the paper ran the same story that was printed in the Sun-News.  No sign of any comment by blogger Jay Koester, however.


Much less pre-visit hype compared to what was given to Obama;

No comments from people who attended the event;

Heavy reliance on the AP reports for the details;

No live blogging from Jay Koester of the El Paso Times;

OVERALL IMPRESSION–less space given to McCain.  And the story was treated in a much more ordinary manner, typical of most visits from politicians.  There was certainly none of the breathless hype that went along with the Obama visit in May.

You can see my posts from the Obama visit in the archives. Look for posts dated May 23, 25, 26, and 28.



Buried so deep in the second section of today’s Sun-News that I almost missed it, a little squib about  Democratic Senate candidate Tom Udall holding a “meet and greet” at a school and a townhall meeting tonight.  Who knew??? Either his advance people are really bad OR the Sun-News deliberately squelched that info.  Even if there was very little info, couldn’t it have been attached as a sidebar to the McCain coverage?  His opponent Steve Pearce has sign up already all over town and has been the House Rep. from this district for two terms.  Although Democrats hold most local seats, this district is (and CD-1 and 1 Senate seat) are Republican holds.  (And with folks like Sen. Bingaman and Richardson in office, you could argue that real Democrats are hard to find in NM.)

UPDATE 1 on Obama in New Mexico, Memorial Day

News is starting to dribble in about the Obama event here in Las Cruces. Seems that the touted “Vets Only Town Hall” wound up with fewer vets than supporters contacted via the phone-chain. And it sure isn’t all about the vets…or the general public….I guess I could go over, but I’m afraid of what the Obamatrons would do to me…and, of course, there is the HEAT!

From the El Paso TImes blog at about 12:30 pm local time:

There are about 300 people here at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum waiting for New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Although it is billed as an event for veterans, it looks like only about 100 of the folks are actually veterans.

Although most people are in their chairs, there are more and more people retreating toward the closest shady area. I’ll be curious to see how long Obama speaks in this heat. But I suppose he’s in good shape.

You bet they’re looking for shade…it’s blistering hot in the noonday sun in these parts…

Next report in about 1 pm:

The mayor of Las Cruces, Ken Miyagashima, began the festivities about 12:40 p.m. He mentioned the heat and the lovely backdrop of the Organ Mountains. After thanking the veterans in the audience, the crowd stood for the Pledge of Allegience. “I want to thank the veterans for their service to the country,” Miyagashima said. “We will never forget your service.”After a few more references to “our next president, Barack Obama,” he was done.After that, it was back to waiting. It’s about 1 p.m. now, waiting for the action to start.

I voted for Ken Miyagashima for mayor and knew him slightly from the Clark campaign. I was pretty ticked off when he personally helped open the Obama office here, just after he was elected in a very close election. As mayor, he’s been very low-key. I felt that it was inappropriate for him to be so partisan so early on. And, he’s still at it. This may not help him in the future if he decides to run again, because his original high-profile campaign office appearance, complete with picture in the paper, did miff a lot of people. He does have a nice contact list, so I’m sure lots of people at the RALLY (not the advertised TOWN HALL MEETING WITH VETS ONLY) are from that list.

By the way, I heard a national radio report on McCain’s ABQ appearance, which was at 9 am local. I guess the evening news will be full of video on Obama…

More Later…