In just a handful of hours, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will perform the furthest encounter of an object in our solar system. On Jan. 1 at 12:33 a.m., New Horizons is set to fly by 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, and collect images and scientific data to beam back to Earth. Ultima orbits the Sun from a vast region of icy and rocky bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune. Studying this primitive world—which has been around, unaltered, since the beginning of the solar system—will provide us with vital insights into the origins and evolution of our celestial neighborhood.
Below is a message from Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Science Missions Directorate, to Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Alan – as you know, we are on [government] shutdown, and I am unable to contribute to this historic event like I intended to. I will be sure to be there as a guest with my family! Here is why.
I think it is fitting that this Ultima Thule [flyby] is at the interface of the 60th anniversary of Explorer 1 in 2018 and the 50th of Apollo 11 in 2019. To me, this milestone of New Horizons is full of everything NASA and NASA Science is all about. It is about boundless aspiration and hope that are at the inception of exploration. It is about innovation and perseverance to actually create the success, by an amazing team that transcends what is reasonably expected or even what seems possible initially. And then, it is about surprise and transformative learning that has been at the heart of NASA and NASA Science and Exploration during the past 5-6 decades. The Ultima Thule flyby has all of these!
For all of that, I wish you and the team the best of luck! We at NASA Science are incredibly proud of you and your team - both the science and engineering teams – and can't wait for the surprises that will be uncovered during the next hours and days.
Go New Horizons! Go Ultima Thule!
Go Exploration – Forever!