However wretched we are, the human race does, on occasion, manage to soar
where can humanity turn for uplift?
Meet New Horizons, arriving at Pluto on July 14. Small and light, the fastest spacecraft ever launched, it left Earth with such velocity that it shot past our moon in nine hours. A speeding bullet the size of a Steinway, it has flown 9 1/2 years to the outer edges of the solar system.
To Pluto, the now-demoted “dwarf planet” that lives beyond the Original Eight in the far distant “third zone” of the solar system
After 3 billion miles, New Horizons will on Tuesday shoot right through Pluto’s mini-planetary system of five moons
and maybe get a peak at what the human eye could never have seen.
Why through? Because, while the other planets lie on roughly the same plane, Pluto and its moon system stick up at an angle to that plane like a giant archery target. New Horizons gets one pass, going straight by the bull’s-eye. No orbiting around, no lingering for months or even years to photograph and study.
No mulligans. And no navigating. Can’t do that when it takes 4 1/2 hours for a message from Earth to arrive. This is a preprogrammed, single-take, nine-day deal.
For what? First, for the science, the coming avalanche of new knowledge. Remember: We didn’t even know there was a Pluto until 85 years ago