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NASA Delays Pluto Probe Launch Again

by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Jan 19, 2006
NASA on Wednesday postponed launching its first-ever mission to Pluto for at least 24 hours, delaying for a second day the voyage to the solar system's most remote planet.

The planned launch of an Atlas V carrying the New Horizons spacecraft "has been delayed for at least one more day," the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Wednesday.

The latest delay was due to a power outage at the laboratory managing the mission, the US space agency said in a statement.

The mission had been cancelled on Tuesday because high winds at the launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida put the liftoff at risk, NASA said earlier.

The mission aims to send a spacecraft the size of a grand piano and packed with scientific instruments to Pluto, the outermost of the nine official planets of the Earth's solar system.

It will take the craft 10 years to reach the planet, traveling at unparalleled speeds of up to 75,000 kilometers (47,000 miles) per hour.

Once the probe arrives, it will take an estimated four hours and 25 minutes for its radio-transmitted data to reach Earth.

The mission was delayed because there was a major power outage early Wednesday in the region around Laurel, Maryland, home to the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, which operates the spacecraft and manages the mission, the statement said.

"The launch is scrubbed for 24 hours," the statement noted.

If NASA fails to launch the probe by January 27, the trip will take several more years because of the unique planetary alignment.

The space agency is trying to take advantage of an alignment that puts Pluto, which has a lopsided, non-circular 248-year orbit around the sun, in a position that would let the craft carrying the probe use the gravitational force of Jupiter to sling it outward at accelerated speeds.

The maneuver would cut about 30 months off the trip to Pluto, which the craft is scheduled to approach between July 2015 and July 2017.

Scientists say the mission must be carried out before 2020 because, after that date, Pluto will be too far from the sun and its atmosphere will be frozen.

Distant Pluto is the only known solar system planet that has not been explored by a space probe. It remains enigmatic 75 years after its discovery.

"What we know about Pluto today could fit on the back of a postage stamp," said Colleen Hartman, deputy associate administrator for NASA.

The craft will explore Pluto and its large moon Charon and, continuing on a trajectory away from the sun, will then spend five more years probing the icy and rocky bodies of the Kuiper Belt.

Scientists hope the ambitious journey will help them better understand the origins of Earth and the other planets some 4.5 billion years ago.

Source: Agence France-Presse
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NASA Launches Spacecraft To Pluto, The Kuipers And Stars Beyond
Washington DC (SPX) Jan 19, 2006
NASA on Thursday launched a trailblazing probe to Pluto, at the solar system's outermost limits, after two days of delays.

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