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New Horizons: Spacecraft survives historic encounter with Pluto

Updated: 2015-07-15
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Read more on: New Horizons   Pluto encounter  
  
A signal received from the New Horizons spacecraft shows that it survived its historic encounter with Pluto. 
 
Data in its first call home since Tuesday's flyby suggest the spacecraft experienced no upsets as it hurtled past the icy world at 14km/s, 
 
The signal came through a giant dish in Madrid, Spain - part of a Nasa network of communications antennas. 
   
The message took four hours and 25 minutes to traverse 4.7 billion km of space.
   
The tension mounted as scientists and engineers at mission headquarters in Laurel, Maryland waited for telemetry information. So there was joy and relief when the signal was received at 01:53 BST; scientists and engineers cheered, hugged each other and waved American flags. 
 
"We are in lock with telemetry from the spacecraft," said mission operations manager Alice Bowman as confirmation was received. 
 
"We have a healthy spacecraft, we have recorded data from the Pluto system, and we are outbound from the Pluto system." 
 
A few minutes later, she added: "I can't express how I feel. It's just like we planned it!" 
 
The first high-resolution pictures from the flyby - with about 10 times the detail of those already published - should be downlinked later on Wednesday. 
 
"With this mission, we have visited every single planet in the Solar System," said Nasa's administrator Charles Bolden. 
 
"This is a tremendous moment in human history," said the space agency's science chief John Grunsfeld. 
 
"The spacecraft is full of images and we can't wait." 
 
Ralph Semmel, director of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory where mission control is based, congratulated the mission team. 
 
"What has Pluto given us? Whales, doughnuts, and a heart," he said, referring to informal names for surface features in images taken during the spacecraft's approach. 
 
Team members had expressed confidence the flyby would go well, but there was a very small possibility that New Horizons could be lost as it sped through the Pluto system. 
 
Any stray icy debris would have been lethal if it had collided with the spacecraft at its 14km/s velocity (31,000mph). 
 
James Christy, who discovered Pluto's moon Charon, joined relatives of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the dwarf planet itself in 1930, at mission control to witness receipt of the signal.
  
    
SOURCE: BBC
 
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