Things are looking great for NASA’s New Horizon mission as all systems are up and ready for the spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto on July 14th. NASA scientists cheered and applauded as they made the switch to encounter mode.
However on Saturday the scientists were very upset when the spacecraft suffered a computer malfunction. NASA said in a statement that it is very pleased with its mission team on how quickly they identified the problem and were able to fix it.
But now scientists assure that even if New Horizon experiences a glitch similar to the one on July 4th it will still be set to continue on its path. The spacecraft will make its closest approach to the icy dwarf planet flying within 7,750 miles, inside the orbit of Charon, at 7:49 a.m. ET July 14.
The craft has been in the solar system since January 2006 and has been heading toward the one (Charon, which Pluto’s primary Moon) out of the five known moons of the dwarf planet. New Horizon has mapped a nine year and 3 billion mile journey.
Scientists have successfully programmed the spacecraft to reboot itself in the case of a malfunction occurring and it will be able to resume tasks without the Mission Control at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, having to intervene.
That level of autonomy is essential because in case of a glitch occurring it is a lengthy process because New Horizon is at a distance of 3 billion miles from Earth and it takes 4.5 hours for a set of signals or commands to reach the spacecraft.
As NASA scientists switch to encounter mode they are excited to start receiving new images of Pluto and it’s Moons from New Horizons LORRI image database.
NASA’s New Horizon cost $700 million and was launched in Cape Canaveral, Fla.