SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Man is about to reach closer to Pluto than ever before as the NASA New Horizons spacecraft begins the first of several approach phases toward the dwarf planet at the edge of our solar system.
When the mission was in the planning phases, Pluto was still considered a planet, but in 2006 it was reclassified as a dwarf planet. That same year, the New Horizons spacecraft blasted off as the fastest ever, shooting out off on a 4.6 billion mile journey to the distant sphere.
The piano-size New Horizons craft was in a hibernation phase as it traveled the first 3 billion miles toward Pluto. It woke up last month and is now getting ready for the first photo shoot.
“NASA first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington.
Beginning January 25th, the probe will begin snapping photos of Pluto, which is the 10th largest celestial body orbiting our sun.
The later stages of approach will require steering the craft closer to Pluto by using photo information to steer around five known moons and other potential perils.