I’m so conflicted about our flight to Pluto. New Horizons is a success. It’s cool!
What is its purpose?
It will produce first time data of very limited interest with nearly zero chance of changing life on Earth. We’re long past the Velcro, transistor, Tang stage of space exploration. The technology of sending missions is mature.
First–space is big!
Bigger than big.
However big you think it is, it’s bigger. The numbers are beyond what any of us can reasonably comprehend.
It took the New Horizons, the world’s fastest satellite, 9.5 years to reach 4.5 light hours distant. That means it takes light or radio waves 4.5 hours to travel from New Horizons to Earth. Our nearest star (beyond the Sun) is 3.2 light years away, thousand and thousand of times more distant. For all practical purposes, unreachable.
Pluto is an interesting planet (or dwarf planet) because it’s where it doesn’t belong. The innermost planets of our solar system are solid. The outer planets are weird gas giants. Pluto’s out there, but solid like an inner planet,
Pluto’s orbit is also out of the plane of the other planets. It even crosses inside the orbit of Neptune.
What I enjoy most about Pluto is its moons. Styx, Nix, Kerberos, Hydra and Charon. Charon doesn’t orbit Pluto as much as they orbit each other. The others moons, tiny and not all round, wobble, spin and rapidly change direction while in orbit. It’s the space version of the Scrambler type ride you’d see at a fair.
New Horizons has a ten watt transmitter. At this distance and with that power the only way to communicate is to send data very slowly. It will take 16 months for New Horizons to recap its past day and a half, returning a ton of scientific data to Earth.
Now it’s on to the Kuiper Belt. What an accomplishment. I wish it was worthwhile.