Next month National Geographic screens Mission Pluto as New Horizons hurtles past Pluto with an historic opportunity to photograph Pluto’s surface for the very first time.
The special is hosted by Jason Silva from National Geographic Channel’s Brain Games.
National Geographic Channel joins top scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in conjunction with NASA on a historic mission to the edge of our solar system with the goal of capturing the first clear images and data ever recorded of Pluto — a “dwarf planet” so mysterious, not even the high-powered lens of the Hubble Telescope can tell us what it looks like.
Pluto could hold the key to further unlocking the mysteries of our galaxy, and the world waits in anticipation for spacecraft New Horizons to complete its fateful approach on July 14th.
Premiering Sunday 19 July at 8.30pm AEST, Mission Pluto takes an in-depth look at the ambitious project from start to finish, leading into the final hours of a journey more than nine years, $700 million and over 4 billion kilometres in the making.
In 2006, New Horizons took off on a rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to begin it’s over 4-billion-kilometre voyage. Hurtling through space faster than any manmade object has ever travelled and propelling free of the Earth’s gravity, New Horizons sped out beyond Mars, past the great gas giants like Jupiter and onward toward its final rendezvous with an object no bigger than Alaska, just 22,500 kilometres across … Pluto.
On July 14, 2015, when the spacecraft arrives, it will speed by the dwarf planet at close to 14 kilometres per second without any means of stopping. The core flyby will last less than two hours, creating a very tight window for the spacecraft to photograph Pluto, map the surface, analyse the atmosphere, and examine the geology of the surface. At the speed New Horizons is traveling, the smallest miscalculation could have catastrophic consequences as the spacecraft makes its final approach. But the science team is hopeful.
Mission leader Dr. Alan Stern, a veteran of 24 previous NASA missions who was interviewed for the special, commented, “The people on this team, most of them have worked on [the mission] for a very big portion of their careers. When you put that much time and effort into a project, you’re pretty excited when you’re on Pluto’s doorstep.”
Signals traveling at light speed between the craft and the team back on Earth take four and a half hours to make the more than 4-billion-kilometre journey, which means that after years of meticulous preparation, New Horizons will carry out its final directive while its creators blindly wait, hoping like all photographers that they “got the shot.”
As New Horizons beams data back, host Jason Silva helps viewers digest everything that is happening by breaking down the science behind the mission and explaining the origins of our fascination with Pluto. When did we first discover Pluto? Why was Walt Disney so inspired by the planet that he named a beloved cartoon character after it? Why did the International Astronomical Union decide to strip Pluto of its planetary status — and why were people so upset about it?
Though the outcome and overall success of the New Horizons mission is yet unknown, Mission Pluto pays homage to one of NASA’s most ambitious, most daring and highest-stakes endeavours to date and celebrates Pluto.
Sunday 19 July at 8.30pm on National Geographic.