While New Horizons completes its spectacular flyby Pluto – leaving NASA enthusiasts whooping on Earth in celebration – its time to take a peak into New Horizons, the super cool saucer shaped spacecraft. Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930 is on board (in spirit). When he died 67 years ago, he requested that his ashes be sent to space. And he got his wish when New Horizons was launched in 2006.
NASA officials attached a small container of a portion of Tombaugh’s ashes to the upper deck of the spacecraft. There’s an inscription on the container that reads: “Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system’s ‘third zone.'”
Who was Clyde Tombaugh?
Tombaugh was a Kansas farm boy turned astronomer. He never got the chance to go to college, but that didn’t stop him from chasing his space dream. He built his own telescopes out of old farming equipment and glass. He developed such brilliance in building telescopes that he was eventually able to start observing planets himself. He even wrote to Lowell Observatory for advice on how to build better telescopes.
As he scanned the night skies, he started sending the observatory some of his work – handmade drawings of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Impressed with his talent and enthusiasm for the field, they sent him back a job application.
Not long after starting at Lowell, Tombaugh discovered Pluto.
“For a minute he was the only one who knew there was another planet out there,” Annette Tombaugh, his daughter, said in a NASA video about the discovery.
And now part of Tombaugh is on its way to visit the very dwarf planet that made him famous.
“My dad would have been thrilled,” Alden Tombaugh, Clyde Tombaugh’s son, told NBC News. “He always said that if he had the chance, he wanted to visit the planets. And a little part of him is going to get to do that.”
After the Pluto flyby, the probe will continue out into the Kuiper belt and out of the solar system — making Tombaugh’s remains the first humans’ to ever leave it.