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18 January 2006

New Horizons Pluto probe: Try again Thursday

The Associated Press
Wednesday 18 January 2006

NASA to Make 3rd Try
to Launch Pluto Probe

Launch of Pluto-Bound Probe
Delayed for Second Day;
NASA to Try Again Thursday

Associated Press Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- For the second day in a row Wednesday, NASA scrubbed the launch of an unmanned spacecraft on a nine-year voyage to Pluto this time, because a storm in Maryland knocked out the power at a laboratory that will operate the probe.

NASA officials planned to make a third attempt to launch the New Horizons probe Thursday after electricity was restored to the lab.

High winds at the launch pad kept the spacecraft from lifting off Tuesday, the first day the launch window opened.

Scientists have been working 17 years on the mission, and they were unfazed by the back-to-back postponements.

"Two or three days doesn't mean a hill of beans," said Alan Stern, principal investigator for the mission.

A storm in Laurel, Md., knocked out power early Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

"The air conditioning was off. The flight controllers were sitting there wiping sweat," Stern said. "If they were dealing with any spacecraft issues, which first day out of the box a lot of spacecraft have, you can't concentrate like that."

The space agency has until mid-February to send the spacecraft on its way, but a launch in January would allow the spacecraft to use Jupiter's gravity to shave five years off the 3,000,000,000 mile trip, allowing it to arrive as early as July 2015.

The spacecraft is about the size and shape of a concert piano. It will study Pluto as well as the frozen, sunless reaches of the solar system known as the Kuiper Belt. Scientists believe that studying the region's icy, rocky objects can shed light on how the planets formed.

Thirty anti-nuclear protesters showed up to oppose the mission's plutonium-powered generator. NASA and the Department of Energy estimated the probability of a launch accident that could release plutonium at 1 in 350.

On the Net:

New Horizons Mission

Nuclear protesters

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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