Tag Archives: Pluto

Flying by

NASA.gov (Click to embiggen)
NASA.gov (Click to embiggen)
We’ve come a long way from the morning in June, 1965, when I watched my first NASA launch, live. I’m pretty sure that Walter Cronkite was the narrator of my adventure. And by long way I do mean literally. The furthest from the Earth’s surface that Gemini 4 got was about 155 nautical miles. New Horizons has traveled about 3,000,000,000 miles (that 3 billion, yes, billion-with-a-B) to do its Pluto flyby.

The Gemini launch was the first one that was broadcast live, around the world, by satellite. So a lot of people watched the launch. And it was a great flight. Ed White (Edward H. White II) become the first person to space walk, exiting the capsule in a spacesuit with a camera. NASA only let him stay out 20 minutes (actually, they were telling the other astronaut, James A. McDivitt, to get White back in sooner, but White was trying to stay out as long as he could). White and McDivitt could communicate to each other over an intercom line that was part of the tether, but it didn’t connect with the exterior radar to the ground. On top of that, the primary communication system with the ground was having some problems (the VOX unit at McDivitt’s end didn’t correctly identify when McDivitt was talking, so it kept cutting in and out and odd times, so he had to switch to the push-to-talk mechanism).

NASA didn’t want White outside of the capsule during any of the periods when the capsule was out of range of a tracking station (we didn’t have quite as extensive a network of tracking stations around the world back then, so there were a few points in the orbit where we were out of communication with the capsule).

I’ve been a space geek at least since 1965. Probably longer, but the Gemini 4 launch is the earliest one I remember watching (and apparently drove everyone crazy talking about it for weeks after).

So, yes, I’m pretty excited about our flyby of the planet Pluto (if you’re one of those deluded people who adhere to the totally ridiculous redefinition, don’t bother arguing; a scientific definition of an class of object should depend upon the objectively measurable properties of that object only, not the presence or absence of other objects in its vicinity). I can’t wait until we start receiving the images New Horizons is taking today. We’re going to learn so much!

New Horizons races past Pluto in historic flyby

Everything you need to know about Tuesday’s Pluto encounter

NASA’s First Encounters with Planets in the Solar System