WASHINGTON, July 15 — NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which got humanity's first up-close look at Pluto, has "phoned home" from nearly three billion miles away confirming that its historic flyby of the dwarf planet was indeed a success, and ending a 21-hour period of gruelling suspense for scientists.
The New Horizons spacecraft phoned home last night to tell the mission team and the world it had accomplished the historic first-ever flyby of Pluto, NASA said today.
Confirmation of mission success came 13 hours after the actual flyby. The spacecraft had stopped transmitting to mission control as it had turned its antennas towards the dwarf planet to gather data during yesterday's flyby.
The signal received confirms the probe has sailed pass its target successfully and it is now set to transmit a wealth of data – including several new high resolution images ? from Pluto.
New Horizons Flight Controllers cheered and hugged each other as the probe re-established contact with mission headquarters.
"I know today we've inspired a whole new generation of explorers with this great success, and we look forward to the discoveries yet to come," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said.
"This is a historic win for science and for exploration.
We've truly, once again raised the bar of human potential," said Bolden.
After more than nine years and three billion miles travelled, the New Horizons probe passed within just 12,500 kilometres of Pluto's surface.
The preprogrammed "phone call" — a 15-minute series of status messages beamed back to mission operations at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland through NASA's Deep Space Network – ended a very suspenseful 21-hour waiting period, the US space agency said.
"With the successful flyby of Pluto we are celebrating the capstone event in a golden age of planetary exploration," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
"While this historic event is still unfolding — with the most exciting Pluto science still ahead of us — a new era of solar system exploration is just beginning," said Grunsfeld.
"NASA missions will unravel the mysteries of Mars, Jupiter, Europa and worlds around other suns in the coming years," he said.
Pluto is the first Kuiper Belt object visited by a mission from Earth.
New Horizons will continue on its adventure deeper into the Kuiper Belt, where thousands of objects hold frozen clues as to how the solar system formed.
Its successful execution has completed the initial reconnaissance of the "classical" nine planets in the Solar System.
New Horizons is collecting so much data it will take 16 months to send it all back to Earth, NASA said. (PNA/PTI)