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Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

NASA Sets Sights on First Pluto Mission

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Depending on its launch date, New Horizons could reach the Pluto system asearly as mid-2015, conducting a five-month-long study possible only from the close-up vantage of a spacecraft. It will characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto's atmospheric composition and structure. NewHorizons also will study the small moons recently discovered in the Pluto system.

The spacecraft will "sleep" in electronic hibernation for much of the cruise to Pluto. Operators will turn off all but the most critical electronic systems and monitor the spacecraft once a year to check out critical systems, calibrate instruments and perform course corrections, if necessary.

The spacecraft will send back a beacon signal each week to give operators an instant read on spacecraft health. The entire spacecraft, drawing electricity from a single radioisotope thermoelectric generator, operates on less power than a pair of 100-watt household light bulbs.

For more information about NASA and the New Horizons mission on the Web,visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

SOURCE NASA


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