NASA Craft Gets Final Wake-Up Call for Pluto Flyby

New Horizons probe is awake and ready for its July 2015 encounter
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2014 4:01 PM CST
NASA Craft Gets Final Wake-Up Call for Pluto Flyby
Pluto (left) and one of its moons, with Polaris shining brightly in the middle.   (Shutterstock)

New Horizons just got what's probably the earliest wakeup call ever. Even though it's not supposed to fly by Pluto—the destination of its nine-year, 3-billion-mile journey—until July, the NASA craft roused itself from its "hibernation" slumber and is fully awake for the last leg of its mission, reports. Russell Watson's "Where My Heart Will Take Me" blasted NH out of its somnambulant state with a personal message from Watson himself before crooning the appropriate lyrics, "It's been a long road/Getting from there to here." About 20 scientists waiting back home in Maryland at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory got the confirmation signals on Saturday evening that New Horizons was up and at 'em, just over 162 million miles from Pluto.

The piano-sized craft, which was launched in 2006, had been "asleep" since August to conserve energy and reduce wear and tear on its systems. It's been asleep before (18 other times, to be exact) during its long trip, but this was the last sleep before it makes it to the Kuiper Belt, the icy "disc-shaped region" that harbors Pluto and other dwarf worlds, NASA notes. "This is the place that this spacecraft was built to operate, and these are the operations that this team has waited a decade to actually go and execute," New Horizons' principle investigator says. "So it's game time." (New Horizons got some great pics of Jupiter during its flyby nearly eight years ago.)

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