NASA Establishes Anomaly Board to Diagnose Problem on Pluto Mission

NASA Establishes Anomaly Board to Diagnose Problem on Pluto Mission

After nearly 10 years in space and just 10 days away from its closest approach to Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft experienced an anomaly today (July 4).   NASA has already established a board to determine what went wrong and how to fix it in such a short period of time.

New Horizons was launched on January 19, 2006 for its long journey to Pluto, once the ninth planet in the solar system and later redesignated as a “dwarf planet.”   Its change of status did not diminish interest in learning more about it and its five moons.

In the past several months, New Horizons has been able to obtain data “Better Than Hubble” as it closes in on Pluto.  While the Hubble Space Telescope can see a lot from its perch in earth orbit, New Horizons now is able to see Pluto much more clearly.   Closest approach will be on July 14.

That is if it is functioning properly, of course.  This evening (Eastern Daylight Time) NASA announced the spacecraft “experienced an anomaly this afternoon” and went into safe mode.  Mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, MD lost contact at 1:54 pm EDT, but regained it after the spacecraft automatically switched to a backup computer as it is programmed to do.  Contact was reestablished at 3:15 pm EDT and the spacecraft is transmitting data NASA hopes will enable mission scientists and engineers to determine what went wrong, fix it, and get the mission back to its original flight plan.

The spacecraft is 3 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) from Earth, which at the speed of light means that it takes 9 hours for a round-trip communications session. NASA says “full recovery is expected to take from one to several days” during which time the spacecraft will not be able to collect science data.

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