“Behind the Scenes” with New Horizons

Thanks to NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, we're about to see Pluto up close for the first time. Here are a few snapshots of the scientists and engineers who'll make it possible.

After a 9½-year, 4½-billion-mile journey, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is on the threshold of its historic encounter with Pluto and its moons. The spacecraft will be its closest to Pluto, just 12,500 km (7,800 miles) away, at 11:49:58 Universal Time on July 14th.

Emily Lakdawalla's 8-page preview article in the July issue provides all the info you'll need to prepare for the flyby, and don't forget to read principal investigator Alan Stern's exclusive commentaries on the mission for SkyandTelescope.com.

Of course, it's taken hundreds of scientists and engineers to get New Horizons to its destination, and we thought you might enjoy seeing a few snapshots of them hard at work. If you want to see more images about the New Horizons mission, Pluto, and related topics, visit Pluto Picture of the Day.

New Horizons in NASA clean room

Technicians look over the New Horizons spacecraft in the clean room at Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility prior to its launch in January 2006.
NASA

LORRI installed on New Horizons

LORRI, short for Long Range Reconnaissance Image, provides the spacecraft with powerful telescopic eyesight. It consists of a telescope with an 8.2-inch (20.8-cm) aperture and a 2.63-m focal length.
NASA

Clyde Tombaugh goes to Pluto

A small container of ashes from Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930 and died in 1997, is affixed to the inside, upper deck of the spacecraft.
Universe Today

Kinnison-Stern-Fountain with New Horizons

From left: Assurance engineer Jim Kinnison, principal investigator Alan Stern and project manager Glen Fountain pose under the New Horizons spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center in late 2005, not long before it was enclosed in its protective fairing and moved to the launch site.
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Disk with names attached to New Horizon

A technician installs a compact disc, containing the names of 434,738 people who signed up to send their names to Pluto, onto the exterior of the New Horizons spacecraft.
NASA / JHU-APL / Southwest Research Inst.

Alan Stern with New Horizons' RTGs

In the last photograph of New Horizons before it departed for Pluto, principal investigator Alan Stern gives a "thumbs up" signal just after spacecraft's radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) was installed and armed while on the launch pad on January 13, 2006.
NASA / JHU-APL / Southwest Research Inst.

Patsy Tombaugh

Patsy Tombaugh, the widow of Clyde Tombaugh, chats with Jane Spencer at a party before the spacecraft's launch in January 2006. (Patsy died in 2012 at the age of 99.)
John Spencer

New Horizons team at launch

The New Horizons mission operations team cheers as the Pluto-bound spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on January 19, 2006.
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Henry Throop's "Pluto" head

To celebrate New Horizons' successful launch, participating scientist Henry Throop decorated his freshly shaven head with a realistic Pluto map (artwork provided by deputy project scientist Leslie Young). Charon orbits to scale beside Throop's head.
Dan Durda

Burning the contingency launch plan

Following tradition, the contingency plans developed to deal with a possible rocket failure are ceremonially burned 6 hours after New Horizons' successful launch on January 19, 2006.
John Spencer

New Horizons' complex wiring

All these wires connect different instruments and electronics aboard the New Horizons spacecraft, so that their results can be sent back to Earth via the main radio antenna.
LASP

New Horizons mission scientists gathered for a team meeting on January 19, 2015. Rather than being assigned to specific instruments, these researchers belong to six groups that will tackle specific areas of study (such as surface composition or geology).NASA / JHU-APL

New Horizons mission scientists gathered for a team meeting on January 19, 2015. Rather than being assigned to specific instruments, these researchers belong to six groups that will tackle specific areas of study (such as surface composition or geology).
NASA / JHU-APL

New Horizons' hazards team

Alice Bowman (center) is New Horizons' Mission Operations Manager (or "MOM"). Last September she posed for a picture with members of the missions hazard team, tasked with ensuring that the spacecraft survives its encounter with Pluto. Pictured, left to right, are: Doug Hamilton, Tod Lauer, Marina Brozovic, David Kaufmann, Alice Bowman, John Spencer, Hal Weaver, Simon Porter, Bob Jacobson, and Mark Showalter.
John Spencer

Mark Showalter and Hal Weaver

Mark Showalter, New Horizons science team member and discoverer of Pluto's moons Styx and Kerberos, checks out some data in 2011. Project scientist Hal Weaver is in the background.
John Spencer

Frozen Plutonian air

Pluto's atmosphere is 97% nitrogen. But it's so cold there, with surface temperatures around 44 K (–229°C), that nitrogen (melting point: 63.15 K or –210°C) can exist as solid ice on its surface.
www.periodictable.ru

New Horizons' mission logo

New Horizons is not the first mission proposed to visit Pluto. Scientists have been pushing NASA to go there since 1990.
NASA / JHU-APL / Southwest Research Inst.