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WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- NASA is preparing to launch the first spacecraft to distant Pluto and its moon Charon. The January 2006 launch of New Horizons will complete the initial reconnaissance of the planets in the solar system.
"New Horizons will study a unique world, and we can only imagine what we may learn. This is a prime example of scientific missions that complement the Vision for Space Exploration," said Mary Cleave, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
The Vision for Space Exploration is a bold new course into the cosmos, a journey that will return the space shuttle safely to flight, complete the construction of the International Space Station, take humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars and beyond.
The National Academy of Sciences has ranked the exploration of Pluto-Charon and the Kuiper Belt among the highest priorities for space exploration, citing the fundamental scientific importance of these bodies to advancing understanding of our solar system.
Different than the inner, rocky planets (like Earth) or the outer gasgiants, Pluto is a different type of planet known as an "ice dwarf," commonly found in the Kuiper Belt region billions of miles from the sun.