At Last! NASA Spacecraft to Capture a Close-Up of Pluto (KQED) featuring Mark Showalter

By JULY 13, 2015

Tomorrow morning, if all goes according to plan, an unmanned NASA spacecraft called New Horizons will finally reach Pluto, snapping the first close-up photos ever taken of our solar system’s most famous dwarf planet.

New Horizons launched in 2006; eight hours later it passed the moon. It took nine-and-a-half years to get to Pluto.

“In some sense, this is the bookend to the first, great, 50 years of space exploration,” says Jeff Moore, a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Centerin Mountain View. Moore leads New Horizon’s Geology and Geophysics Investigation Team.

It was almost exactly 50 years ago that we saw our first crisp images of a planet other than Earth.

In 1965, Mariner 4, a NASA spacecraft the size of a Winnebago, whizzed past Mars, taking pictures along the way.

TV networks brought the news to American living rooms, disappointing some who’d hoped to catch a glimpse of alien life.

“The pictures and data recorded by Mariner 4 reveal Mars to be a cold, barren planet,” read the broadcaster from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In 1974 Venus and Mercury got their close ups, thanks to NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft.

In the late 1970s and 80s, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 beamed back images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

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