NASA Spacecraft ‘Wakes Up’ Near Pluto, 2.9 Billion Miles From Earth

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“After a voyage of nearly nine years and three billion miles —the farthest any space mission has ever traveled to reach its primary target – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft came out of hibernation today for its long-awaited 2015 encounter with the Pluto system,” NASA announced in a statement on Saturday December 6.

New Horizons was launched on January 19, 2006, has since traveled 2.9 billion miles from Earth and is now within 162 million miles of Pluto.

“This is a watershed event that signals the end of New Horizons crossing of a vast ocean of space to the very frontier of our solar system, and the beginning of the mission’s primary objective: the exploration of Pluto and its many moons in 2015,” said New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Alan Stern.

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After the spacecraft spent 1,873 days in hibernation mode, operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., confirmed at 9:53 p.m. (EST) on Saturday that New Horizons switched to “active” mode and the radio signal took 4 hours and 26 minutes to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia.

The radio signal? A special greeting and version of the Enterprise song “Faith of the Heart” recorded by English tenor Russell Watson, who had previously provided “wake up” songs to four other space shuttle missions.

“We are so very looking forward to turning this very fuzzy little image of a distant planet into something real. Our knowledge of Pluto is like our knowledge of Mars, 50 years ago,” adds Stern.

The crew is now inspecting the science instruments (including advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a space-dust detector, a high-resolution telescopic camera, and two powerful particle spectrometers) of the spacecraft to make sure everything is working properly before January 15, 2015, when New Horizons is scheduled to start observing the Pluto system.

The spacecraft is expected to complete its closest flyby of Pluto and its five known moons on July 14, 2015, but even before then, especially around mid-May, NASA expects to receive better images and recordings of Pluto that any human has ever seen before.

One of the project scientists Hal Weaver, of APL, concludes that “New Horizons is on a journey to a new class of planets we’ve never seen, in a place we’ve never been before. For decades we thought Pluto was this odd little body on the planetary outskirts; now we know it’s really a gateway to an entire region of new worlds in the Kuiper Belt, and New Horizons is going to provide the first close-up look at them.”

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Image Credit: “ESO-L. Calçada – Pluto (by)” by ESO/L. Calçada – Pluto (Artist’s Impression). Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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  • Fantastic! The patience required for these missions is remarkable. Can’t wait to see the images and science that New Horizons provides from Pluto.

  • Is it traveling 42000 miles per hour?

  • This is going to be awesome!!!Really looking forward to this!!!

  • Pedro P. Coniconde

    That means that by March 26, 2014, New Horizons will only be about 81 million miles from Pluto or roughly between Mars to Mercury in distance?

  • Ice Cowboy

    Cool! For some reason I thought encounter was still a few years out. Anyway, since it’s a fly-by and not going into orbit, are they planning to have Pluto help sling-shot it to another Kuiper Belt object, or, what is its post Plutonian trajectory – and extended mission if any….???

    I found it both kind of charming and simultaneously curious that the quotees referred to Pluto as a “planet” after that taxonomic dust-up some years ago that got it officially demoted to “minor planet”… …and that other KB objects were also implicitly called planets…

    • Julian Halliday

      How pleasing to come across a really well-written remark and, especially, to be given for future use the phrase “taxonomic dust-up.” Thanks on both counts.

  • Shrinivasrao S. Sohoni

    Wonderful and exciting. America well and truly leads humankind’s exploration of Space.

  • The Coach

    That settles it … Pluto is a planet.

  • You mean Yuggoth. :-)

  • I am liking that you refer to Pluto as a “new class of planet.”

  • I’m 46, living in the information/digital/internet age. Watching all this around me in the news, world events, politics. I am just in Awe that its these ‘treks’ into the final frontier that will help us know more about our life here and elsewhere. I don’t think we are alone, but, i wonder how many else are out there like us? That would be a journey to find out! Salute to all the NASA and other like agencies, the men/women/children who will be our explorers!

  • Extremely interesting. I can’t wait to see closeup photos of Pluto. I didn’t know it had five moons!

  • Dylan

    So it’s actually considered a planet again? Awesome!

  • This puts a smile on my face :)

  • George Walker

    Actually it was the song from “Enterprise”

  • Dayung….that’s really far.

  • mike 'the hammer' devlin

    God’s Wonders are Infinite.

  • So impressive! Can’t wait to see images!

  • Steve

    Too bad that probe traveled all that way just to find out that Pluto is actually a MASS RELAY.

  • Noah Vriese

    Extremely exciting stuff!

  • Sammy Busby

    Im excited to see what Pluto looks like and hopefully find out what else is out there beyond Pluto. I love anything about space and watch the science channel shows about everything-space when it airs. Anyone have anymore stations or shows that are about space and the like? Let me know!

  • Roy Rutledge

    Why can’t we have batteries here on Earth that last as long as the batteries on this spacecraft ?

    • Steven M

      We do, Look at the battery in a Prius or one of those 10 year lithium sealed smoke alarms. Also, the spacecraft can recharge with solar energy.

  • Blake Howard

    If you enjoy this content, please share it on Facebook and other social media. We are what we eat, and we eat what we’re fed. Let’s get this out there. Thank you.

  • far it is not that far away⌚️

  • Unfortunate there has to always be someone to try to stuff petty religion in it

  • David

    That’s fantastic news! Can’t wait to see pictures of Pluto of course NASA is going to Photoshop every detail & anything out of the ordinary is going to get cropped out like every picture released from their deceiving selfs but more on a more positive note, Go New Horizons. Wish they actually showed us the REAL images though :/

  • If the craft is 9 billion miles away from Earth and radio waves travel 671 million miles per hour. How is it possible that the radio signal only took 4 hours to get to the station. Someone please enlighten me

  • Robin Lee Willis

    Pluto, you’re gonna be on TV !!!!

  • reaper67x

    it’s 2.9 billion miles..not 9 billion. consider yourself enlightened.

  • Jake B.

    Can’t wait to see images from Pluto! I wish early July would hurry and get here so we can all see. I think it’s also funny how they said Pluto us a “planet” again lol.


    Life as we know it is changing and trust that new horizons are on their way.

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