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New Horizons survives Pluto encounter

July 15, 2015 6:12 pm

A signal received from the New Horizons spacecraft shows that it survived its historic encounter with Pluto.

Data in its first call home since today’s flyby suggest the spacecraft experienced no upsets as it hurtled past the icy world at 14km per second.

The signal came through a giant dish in Madrid, Spain – part of a Nasa network of communications antennas.

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Received at 01:53 BST, the message took four hours and 25 minutes to traverse 4.7 billion km of space.

There was joy and relief at mission headquarters in Laurel, Maryland as scientists and engineers cheered, hugged each other and waved American flags.

“We are in lock with telemetry from the spacecraft,” said mission operations manager Alice Bowman as confirmation was received.

“We have a healthy spacecraft, we have recorded data from the Pluto system, and we are outbound from the Pluto system.”

A few minutes later, she added: “I can’t express how I feel. It’s just like we planned it!”

The event culminated an initiative to explore the solar system that the space agency embarked upon more than 50 years ago.

The spacecraft is so far away that radio signals, travelling at the speed of light, take about four and a half hours to reach Earth.

When New Horizons was launched in 2006 Pluto was still considered the solar system’s ninth planet but was shortly after demoted to the status of “dwarf planet”.

It was expected to continue observing Pluto for several hours after it made its closest approach to the unexplored world, coming within 12,472km of the sphere.

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