In grade 6 one of the projects we were given was to make a presentation on a scientific topic. I don’t remember how I found out about the New Horizons mission but it caught my attention. It was the last planet that has not been explored - at least, back then it was still a planet1.

I remembered I was fascinated by the subsystems, not just the scientific equipment on board, but also the backups in place for the computers, thrusters, and other critical components. There was so much preparation and planning involved, and tons of precautions taken (for the worst case). For example the LORRI imager was covered during the first portion of the trip to prevent it from being accidentally aimed at the sun (which would damage the sensor). New Horizons also set a few records, including the fastest escape velocity and the farthest engine burn. And now, it also is sending back the most hi-res images yet.

Even on Earth, humans have yet to discover, map, and explore endless areas like Antarctica and the ocean just to name two. It will take an incredible amount of effort, technology, and time to do so. But Earth is just an infinitesimal point compared to the vastness of space, which makes it a pretty big deal to be able to send a probe to such a remote location and make discoveries. What’s mind-boggling to me is that we are able to send programed robots that maneuver and take measurements autonomously at an unimaginable distance.

Flyby Assist

There’s a arcade-like machine at the Ontario Science Centre which was a great interactive (real-life) simulation of how gravity can be used to alter the speed and direction of an oncoming object. It comprised of a spinning plate where a magnet was hidden underneath. The objective was to fire a ball so that it hits a bell in the center. However there was an upward slope so one must fire the ball at the correct angle and time in order to sufficiently “fling” the ball. (It made such a nice chiming sound!)

New Horizons took advantage of Jupiter’s gravity assist which shaved off roughly 20 years off Pluto’s approach2. Voyager 2 was even able to use Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as part of a Planetary Grand Tour3. This is just a great hack.

Increased Finding ⇒ Increased Funding?

Space exploration is an area that should continued to be invested in, and with greater pace. There has been many advances, even in the private sector such as from SpaceX and SpaceShipOne4. However this is still a developing industry, and one with unlimited potential (longterm: mining and colonization). There are a lot of benefits in increased investments by governments and companies. Historically during the Space Race, many new innovations occurred, consumers benefited from improved products, and was great for the economy. That is the definition of a good investment. The New Horizons flyby of Pluto and the discoveries made can be a catalyst for a new generation of growth. Let’s see what further records it can set.

1. Pluto got demoted

2. Without the Jupiter assist, New Horizons would reach Pluto by 2038

3. Even more intriguing is the difference that a month makes. Image of Voyagers' Trajectories

4. New Horizons is also bringing a piece of SpaceShipOne and ashes of Clyde W. Tombaugh