The Stars and Planets Ignite Our Dreams

And Make Us Think About What is Possible

A visible light image of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. Courtesy of NASKIES, CC-BY-SA-3.0

A visible light image of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. Courtesy of NASKIES, CC-BY-SA-3.0

What price do you put on stimulating the imagination and scientific interest in someone? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s priceless. Certain events in our history are enough to get us dreaming about the infinite possibilities that lie out there among the other planets and the distant stars and galaxies. Or course, those events did cost something in terms of money and human effort. There’s always a price, a cost, a tradeoff. The payback is knowledge, which comes with both costs, plus the chance to look at places we’ve never seen before. That’s the essence of exploration.

The New Horizonws team celebrates a successful flyby of Pluto.  Image by Carolyn Collins Petersen in the midst of pandemonium.

The New Horizons team celebrates a successful flyby of Pluto. Image by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

New Horizons cost around $700 million, and has certainly inspired people around the world. Worth it? I’d say so. We are supposed to be learning about our universe, using the brains and intellect that evolved along with our bodies. This mission just showed us a world that was long seen only as a point of light. It’s now a place with mountains and craters and icy “continents”, and a “plasma tail’ and a thin atmosphere, and a slew of moons.

Apollo 11 image; Buzz Aldrin's bootprint on the Moon. Courtesy NASA.

Apollo 11 image; Buzz Aldrin’s bootprint on the Moon. Courtesy NASA.

Of course, many people have been celebrating the Apollo 11 landings and the first people to walk on the Moon. The entire Apollo program cost around $25 billion, and its scientific and cultural returns are priceless. We ALL learned something about the Moon, just as we’re all learning something about Pluto with New Horizons. And, about Mars with the missions there. And, about the other planets of the solar system from the many spacecraft we’ve sent out.

We live in an evolving solar system. It hasn’t stopped changing since its formation some 4.5 billion years ago. We’re part of the system, and only recently have we learned to look with scientific eyes at the places that exist in our little part of the galaxy. We’ve learned amazing things through our explorations using both ground-based and space-based instruments. And there’s more out there, if we’re not afraid to go for it.

Is knowing what we know about the solar system and the rest of the universe worth less than the cost of a football stadium? Is it worth less to you personally than the cost of a boutique coffee or a slice of pizza? Is it less important than buying a senator or a whole roomful of them at bargain basement prices? What price do you put on integrity and honesty, scientific curiosity, the urge to KNOW how all this universe works?

You know what MY answer is. Spending money on such exploration benefits people; it creates jobs, stimulates economies and careers, at the same time it teaches us our place in the cosmos. I’d say we got a hell of a deal when we started sending spacecraft out to explore the cosmos. They’re part of us, they’re our eyes and ears on the cosmos, and they are showing us what the universe is made of. Pretty darned good expenditure and use of our time, talents, and energies.

What will we explore next? Exoplanets? There’s more news about those coming soon. How about distant galaxies born in the fires of the first half billion years of the cosmos? Coming up with James Webb Space Telescope. Want to know more about the first stars? Our multi-wavelength observatories in space and on the ground are on the case. Each one of those projects is made up of equipment, sure. But, it’s the people who do the hard work of building, testing, thinking, and sharing the universe with the rest of us. THAT should be worth something to you as you gaze at the stars, look at the pretty pictures, and dream of exploring the cosmos. Shouldn’t it?

New Horizons Returns to Science Ops at Pluto July 7

A “Hard to Detect Timing Flaw” Found as the Cause of Safe Mode

New Horizons, Pluto, and Charon (artist's concept). Courtesy NASA.

New Horizons, Pluto, and Charon (artist’s concept). Courtesy NASA.

Good news, folks!  New Horizons will be back in normal science ops mode starting Tuesday, July 7th!  They found the problem!

This just in (from NASA.gov):

“NASA’s New Horizons mission is returning to normal science operations after a July 4 anomaly and remains on track for its July 14 flyby of Pluto.

The investigation into the anomaly that caused New Horizons to enter “safe mode” on July 4 has concluded that no hardware or software fault occurred on the spacecraft. The underlying cause of the incident was a hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence that occurred during an operation to prepare for the close flyby. No similar operations are planned for the remainder of the Pluto encounter.

“I’m pleased that our mission team quickly identified the problem and assured the health of the spacecraft,” said Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science. “Now – with Pluto in our sights – we’re on the verge of returning to normal operations and going for the gold.”

Preparations are ongoing to resume the originally planned science operations on July 7 and to conduct the entire close flyby sequence as planned. The mission science team and principal investigator have concluded that the science observations lost during the anomaly recovery do not affect any primary objectives of the mission, with a minimal effect on lesser objectives. “In terms of science, it won’t change an A-plus even into an A,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder.

Adding to the challenge of recovery is the spacecraft’s extreme distance from Earth. New Horizons is almost 3 billion miles away, where radio signals, even traveling at light speed, need 4.5 hours to reach home. Two-way communication between the spacecraft and its operators requires a nine-hour round trip.

Status updates will be issued as new information is available.”

My friend Tim just found this quote from the Apollo 11 landing that seems QUITE appropriate here:
“Roger New Horizons Science Team, you got a bunch of people about to turn blue here,we’re breathing again. Thanks a lot!”