Pluto’s champions tell the tale of an epic mission

Image: Pluto stamp
The 1991 stamp that served as the rallying cry for the New Horizons Mission to Pluto is “updated” by members of the New Horizons science team on July 14, 2015, the day the spacecraft flew past Pluto. Principal investigator Alan Stern is at far left. (Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA)

It took nine years for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to get to Pluto, and laying the groundwork for that history-making space mission here on Earth took nearly twice as long.

The drama and intrigue surrounding New Horizons during those decades, as chronicled in a new book titled “Chasing New Horizons: Inside the First Mission to Pluto,” might be enough for any planetary scientist. But Alan Stern — the book’s co-author, the mission’s principal investigator and arguably Pluto’s most ardent defender — is ready to do it all again.

Stern doesn’t expect his campaign to send an orbiter to Pluto to face quite as many challenges, now that the world knows so much more about the dwarf planet with a giant heart.

“I hope it’s a more straightforward process,” Stern told GeekWire. “First of all, there are now a lot more people who are interested in going back to Pluto. … Now that we’ve done the flyby, there isn’t a planetary scientist in the world that isn’t impressed.”

Last month, Stern and other New Horizons scientists signed onto a white papercalling for NASA to fund an in-depth study of potential Pluto orbiter missions. That grass-roots approach mirrors how the “Pluto Underground” campaign for New Horizons got started around a restaurant table in Baltimore,  back in 1989.

“Chasing New Horizons,” written by Stern and astrobiologist David Grinspoon, traces the twists and turns that led from there to the piano-sized spacecraft’s launch in 2006 and its Pluto flyby in 2015.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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