We’re about to boldly go where no man (or tech) has gone before, and it’s a big, big deal. NASA’s interplanetary space probe New Horizons is set to float beyond the largest object in the Kuiper belt, the (maybe normal, maybe dwarf) planet Pluto, on Tuesday, July 14th.
“The reason why we’re so excited about exploring Kuiper for the first time is that it gives us the best window into what the solar system was like just after forming 4.6 billion years ago,” said New Horizons mission scientist Harold Weaver.
New Horizons will give us our first ever close flyby of Pluto, though the probe’s already sending back radically detailed photos of it. It also means we’re once again exploring beyond our solar system, shooting into the magnificent starry void and hopefully making it a more regular destination of sorts.
“This is the beginning of the end of a phase of human exploration,” wrote Dennis Overbye of The New York Times. “The crawling-out-of-our-cradle-and-looking-around part is over.”
He’s right. We’re getting more familiar with the realm beyond our very fun (and equally brutal) playground. It’s moments like this where films such as Contact and Interstellar start to seem slightly less out there.
We as humans—maybe Americans specifically—get spoiled by the concept of space travel. Everything sounds impossible and entirely doable at the same time. Lightyear is such an astronomical measurement that it’s hard to really comprehend where everything dwells in the wild unknown. To put things into perspective here, the journey to Pluto is three billion miles and has taken nine years.
To keep having your mind blown, it’s best to remember that New Horizons is powered by a processor that’s based on the same MIPS R3000 that was featured in the original Sony PlayStation. So…there’s your insane fact of the day to recall at dinner parties.
Now, as the spacecraft travels further into the great, wondrous cosmos, we get to see Pluto like never before. It’s the closest we’ve ever been to the rock-and-ice (dwarf) planet—a huge deal, for sure—but it seems less a monumental destination now. This week, Pluto officially becomes just a gorgeous stopover on the world’s coolest road trip, though, to be fair, where we’re going, we don’t need roads.