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U.S. spacecraft sails by Pluto,capping 9-year journey

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A U.S. spacecraft sailed past the tiny planet Pluto in the most distant reaches of the solar system, capping a journey of 3 billion miles (4.88 billion km) that began nine and a half years ago. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft passed by the ice-and-rock planetoid and its entourage of five moons at 7:49 a.m. Eastern (1149 GMT). The event culminated an initiative to explore the solar system that the space agency embarked upon more than 50 years ago.

“It's truly a mark in human history,” John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science, said from the mission control center at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory outside Baltimore. New Horizons was expected to continue observing Pluto for several hours after it made its closest approach to the unexplored world, coming within 7,750 miles (12,472 km) of the sphere.

While the observations are underway, New Horizons was in radio blackout, so confirmation that it completed its mission will not come. “We programmed it to be spending its time taking data that it can only take today,” lead researcher Alan Stern told reporters after the fly-by. The diminutive spacecraft, which is about the size of a piano, is not equipped with the propellant needed to brake and slip into orbit around Pluto. Like NASA's Voyagers and sister predecessor exploratory spacecraft, New Horizons was designed to conduct its survey on the fly. exploratory spacecraft, New Horizons was designed to conduct its survey on the fly based on the findings of these scientific studies, that “the lack of natural talent is irrelevant to great success. The secret? Painful and demanding practice and hard work.”

 

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